Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

already provided in the Old World, to grasp and shape the New Continent as it emerged from its concealment of ages in the recesses of ocean. Had he been asked, on that morning of triumph when his eyes first beheld, green, bright and fragrant, the shores of the new-found world, who would be the instruments of its conversion to the true God, how blindly would he have answered! For its religious instructors, he would have looked to the universities of the Spain that had patronized him, or of the England or the France that had neglected him; or he would have turned his eyes to his own native Italy. But we, to whose gaze have been revealed those leaves in the volume of Providence that no mortal eye had then read, have learned to look elsewhere for the religious guides already training for the new-found hemisphere. Standing in fancy by the side of the great Genoese navigator, we look back over the intervening waste of waters to the Old World. But our eyes turn not to the points that attract his gaze. Ours wander in quest of Eisenach, a petty town in Western Germany. In the band of school-boys that go from door to door through its streets, singing their hymns, and looking for their dole of daily bread, we catch sight of the full, ruddy face of a lad now some nine years old. Those cheerful features bear the mingling impress of broad humor, vigorous sense, good-nature the most genial, and a will somewhat of the sternest. The youth is the son of an humble miner. His father has sent him hither, some three years ago, that the boy may be taught Latin, and receive such help as poor scholars in Germany thought it no shame to ask. That lad is Martin Luther; a name soon to ring through either hemisphere, the antagonist of the Papacy, the translator of the Scriptures, and the instrument of a spiritual revolution, that is to impress its own character, not on Northern Europe only, but also on the larger half of that continent, of whose discovery that school-boy will soon be told, as he bends over his grammar or bounds through the play-ground, And here have we found one of the masterspirits, that is to fix the religious destiny of the New World.

We look yet again for the rival mind, that is to contest with Luther's the honor of fashioning American character and history. Our next glance is at Spain, that country from whose ports had been fitted out the little armament that is riding on the sea before us. But it is not to its brilliant court, or to its universities, then famous throughout Europe, that we look for this other mind, that is to aid in casting the spiritual horoscope of our continent. On the northern shores of the country, in the province of Biscay, and under the shadow of the Pyrenees, stands an old baronial castle, tenanted by a Spanish gentleman of ancient and noble lineage. In the family of eleven children that gladdens his hearth, the youngest born, the Benjamin of the household, is now a child of some two years old. That tottering infant, as he grows up to manhood, will at first mistake his destiny. Smitten with the chivalrous spirit, that hangs as an atmosphere of romance over the Spain of that age, he will become a courtly knight, delighting in feats of arms, and not free from the soldier's vices. But his ultimate history will be of far different cast. Wounded at the siege of Pampeluna, his shattered limb will confine him to a couch, where his waking hours will be spent in reading the legends of saints, and from that couch of pain he will rise an altered man. For this prattling child is Ignatius Loyola. This baby hand is yet to pen the “ Spiritual Exercises," that far-famed volume, which still remains the manual of the Jesuit order, the book that has swayed so many a strong intellect for this life and the next, and shaken some minds even to insanity. He is to become the founder of a religious fraternity, who shall be the Janizaries of the Romish Church, its stoutest champions against the Reformation, and its most daring emissaries around the globe. Neither Luther nor Loyola

[graphic]

over visited our shores, yet no two of the contemporary minds of Europe so signally controlled the religious history of this continent; and both were in their boyhood, the one at a German grammar-school, the other romping in the nursery of an old Spanish castle, when Columbus planted his foot on the shores of St. Salvador. (Pp. 169–171)

This passage would favorably compare in picturesque effect with many of the finest in Macaulay's volumes of the History of England, and is seldom surpassed by the happiest preludes in the writings of that celebrated author.

But we turn from our author's style to his modes of thought, as they are illustrated in the volume before us. These we find to be clear, independent, and original. He is evidently accustomed to address his mind fearlessly, yet reverently, to the greatest subjects of human thought, and in elucidating them he freely and confidently summons to his aid the mysterious changes of life, the impressive truths of nature, and the great facts in the history of man. His mind evidently delights in freedom; in ranging at large among the topics which seem suited to his purpose, and in gathering them all in graceful subordination and tributary allegiance around those great central truths, which as a Christian minister and moralist he devotes his life to promulgating and defending. All his modes of thought have a highly religious cast, and are directed almost universally to some religious use. The tendency of his mind is invariably to contemplate the spiritual aspects of the subjects which he discusses, to dwell upon the relations which they bear to the unseen life and the soul's immortal progress. This gives character to all his writings. Whether he is discussing the perils and the prospects of our national literature, reciting the wondrous story of the missionary labors of the founders of the Order of Jesus, or recounting the heroic toils and martyr sufferings of the great English Nonconformists; whether he is celebrating the character and the triumphs of the Christian church in every land, exalting the conceptions of his brethren of their ministerial responsibility, or mingling his sympathies with the sorrowing circle of some stricken family in his own flock, he always points us to spiritual views of human life, and addresses to us earnest exhortations to holiness of heart.

Of the several articles in this volume, the most elaborate both in style and argument, and by far the most widely known, is the discourse on the “ Conservative Principle in our Literature," delivered before the students of Madison University. This principle the author, in a series of forcible illustrations and well-framed arguments, demonstrates to be the Cross OF CHRIST. By this he means not the cross as it has ordinarily been celebrated in literature, as borne on the shoulder of the crusader, floating on the banners of the Inquisition, or “glittering on the spires of a cathedral, or hung in jewels and gold around the maiden's neck, or embroidered on the slipper of a pontiff,” but, as it is explained in his own words, “ the cross, naked, rugged, and desolate, not pictured, save on the eye of faith and upon the pages of Scripture ; not graven but by the finger of the Spirit on the regenerate heart; the cross as Paul preached it and the first Christians received it.” It is the cross of Christ, thus regarded as the great means of justification and of sanctification to sinful man, as the object of a faith that has power to renovate his nature and ennoble every faculty of his soul, as the source of an intenser energy to reason and a purer inspiration to genius, which he declares to be the only bulwark our national literature can have against the vices and errors of a corrupted age, the only conservative principle it can possess to embalm it for future generations. The proposition of our author may seem to many to be stated too broadly, for it is plain that he means by it something more than the familiar commonplaces which relate to the importance of religious faith as an element in literature; but we apprehend, few if any of our readers can follow him along the line of lofty argument which he pursues, and through the illustrations which he borrows from the volumes of history that record alike the vagaries of genius and the triumphs of the truth, without yielding to his persuasive power and admitting the glorious doctrine he inculcates. At the risk of quoting what is already quite familiar, we copy one of our author's closing passages which well expresses his own triumphant belief in the proposition of his discourse :

[ocr errors]

We might glance at the effects upon the interests of literature, of the resurrection of the true doctrine of the cross at the era of the Reformation. We might look to the splendid and varied literary results of the revival of this doctrine among the Jansenists of France, when the literature of the nation, in logic and in style, in sobriety and manly vigor of thought, as well as in purity of moral and religious character, was so rapidly advanced by the devout Port Royalists*--when Tillemont produced the erudite, candid and accurate history that received the praises of Gibbon, when Nicole wrote so beautifully on Christian morals, Le Maistre stood at the head of the French bar, De Saci furnished to the

* " It would not be too much to assert, that this mass of men of high intellect, and filled with noble objects, who, in their mutual intercourse, and by their original and unassisted efforts, gare rise to a new tone of expression and a new method of communicating ideas, had & most remarkable influence on the whole form and character of the literature of France, and hence of Europe; and that the literary splendor of the age of Louis XIV. may be in part ascribed to the society of Port Royal." Ranke's History of the Popes. Philad. 1841. Vol. i. p. 208.

nation what remains yet their best version of the Bible,* Lancelot aided by his grammars the progress of classical science, Pascal in so many walks displayed such rare and varied excellence, while Arnauld thundered as the doughtiest theologian of the schools—when Racine, the pupil of the community, became the most finished of French poets, Boileau, their friend, the most perfect and most pure of French satirists, and Madame de Sévigné, their admirer, the most graceful and simple of French letter-writers.

The cross of Christ thoroughly appreciated and ardently loved is an adequate remedy for all the evils of the world, and necessarily, therefore, for all the evils of the world's literature. It contains the only elements which can counteract all the perils we have described, satisfy the demands of the human heart, and correct the wanderings of the human reason, and thus remedy the evils, be they literary or political, of society, by supplying those wants of our nature out of which these evils have sprung, and by restraining the excesses to which these wants lead. As to the casuistry and superstition, the fanaticism and persecution, that have sometimes abused the name of the cross for their shelter, we can only say that the doctrine is no more chargeable with these its perversions, than is the dread Name of God responsible for all the fearful profanation made of it, when it is used as an oath to give sting to a jest, or to add venom to a curse.

But some feel, and others have intimated, that the cross of Christ has been tried, and has failed. The church has tried substitutes for it indeed, and these have ever failed. But the cross itself has not yet been tried by the church continuously and fully. Protestantism even has talked too much of it as justifying the sinner, but shrunk from it as sanctifying him. As to its failures, when really tried, they have never been more than apparent. In the hurry and cry of the conflict, the voice of evil is louder than that of good. When most seeming to fail the cross is but like its Founder, when amid the growing darkness of his last agony, the Dragon seemed writhed around him, and the fatal sting of death was

* An English scholar, James Stephen, Esq., the nephew, we believe, of Wilberforce, in a brilliant artiele upon the Port Royalists, contributed to the Edinburgh Review in the year 1841, has pro. nounced this glowing eulogy on the version of De Saci : “In those hours De Saci executed, and his friend transcribed, that translation of the Holy Scriptures, which to this moment is regarded in France as the most perfect version in their own or in any other modern tongue. While yet under the charge of St. Cyran, the study of the divine oracles was the ceaseless task of De Saci. In mature life, it had been his continual delight; in the absence of every other solace, it possessed his mind with all the energy of a master passion. Of the ten thousand chords which there blend together in harmony, there was not one which did not awaken a responsive note in the heart of the aged prisoner. In a critical knowledge of the sacred text, he may have had many superiors, but not in that exquisite sensibility to the grandeur, the pathos, the superhuman wisdom, and the awful purity of the divine original, without which none can truly apprehend, or accurately render into another idiom, the sense of the inspired writers. * * * Protestants may with justice except to many a passage of De Saci's translation ; but they will, we fear, search their own libraries in vain for any, where the author's unhesitating assurance of the real sense of controverted words permits his style to flow with a similar absence of constraint, and an equal warmth and glow of diction." A calmer critic, and one more versed in the text and versions of the Scriptures, Dr. J. Pre Smith, unites in awarding eminent merit to the translation of De Saci. In his four Discourses on the Sacrifice and Priesthood of Christ, (Lond. 1828,) he remarks upon the advantage of studying a difficult passage with the consultation of various translators. « Even translations which may, 18 a whole, be inferior, will often exhibit instances of successful expression, in single words and clauses, most remarkably bringing out the beauty and genuine force of the original. Among the modern versions I beg leave to point out the extraordinary excellence, particularly in the New Testament, both as to fidelity of sentiment, and felicity of expression, which distinguishes the French translation of Isaac le Maistre de Sacy, one of the illustrious society of Port Royal, and a noble sufferer tor truth and conscience." (Pp. 273, 274.) The chief defects of the work grew out of its being founded on the Vulgate, and its being frequently rather a beautiful paraphrase, than á literal version. It is, like the Pilgrim's Progress of Bunyan, the Letters of the Marian Martyrs in England, the letters of the excellent Samuel Rutherford of Scotland, the Latin Psalms of Buchanan, and some of the religious works of Grotius, a part of the prison literature of the church, having employed its venerable author during his incarceration, as a confessor for the truth, under the dominant influence of Jesuitism at the French court.

transfixing him. For a time the race of mankind might seem to have lost their Redeemer, and the gates of Hope, as they swung slowly back, appeared about to close for ever upon a sinking world. But when that darkness was past, and the field of battle was again seen, it was the Dragon that lay outstretched and stiffened, with bruised head-all feeble and still, in the shadow of that silent cross; while radiant in the distance were the open portals of heaven, and earth lay bathed in the lustrous dawn of a new Hope.

“For the gates of Paradise

Open stand on Calvary."* And when some forty days have passed, there is seen in the glittering air over the summit of Olivet, the form of the unharmed and ascending Redeemer. As victor over death and hell, he is leading captivity captive, returning to his proper and native glory, and going before to prepare a royal mansion and a crown of righteousness for all his cross-bearing followers. Thus was seeming failure the secret and the forerunner of real victory, So has it since been. The days of the French revolution, when infidelity was ready to triumph, ushered in the era of foreign missions, when Satan's oldest seats underwent a new invasion. So will it continue to be. Every conflict, sore and long though it may be, will but add to the trophies of the Redeemer's cross, till around it cluster, as votive offerings, the wreaths of every science and the palms of every art, and that instrument of shame and anguish be hailed as the hinge of the world's history and destiny, the theme of all our study, and the central sun of all our hopes, the sanction to the universe of all God's laws, and the seal to all the elect of our race of an endless redemption from the belief, power, and practice of all evil. In the coming years of the world's history, the presaging eye may look forward to the fierce clash of opinions, the tumult of parties, and the collision of empires. But when the waters are out, and one barrier after another is overwhelmed, and one sea-mark topples and disappears after another beneath the engulphing flood, God is but overturning what man has built. The foundation of his own hand will remain unshaken. The floods of the people cannot submerge it; the gates of hell cannot prevail against its quiet might. (Pp. 68–71.)

Though our author's theological biases in these “ Miscellanies” are entirely clear and well defined, yet we find in the volume no formal outlines of a theological system, no cold or dogmatic statements of Christian doctrine. The theology which has characterized different portions of the Christian church and the different periods of its history, he has evidently made a subject of profound thought and study; but it is not to the conclusions to which his mind has thus been conducted that he here invites our attention. And if we may judge from the pervading tone of these discourses, we should infer that his chosen and most congenial themes are not so much the abstract doctrines of Christianity, as the sentiments they are fitted to awaken in the human heart; and that he delights most to present the truths of the Bible, not as parts of a system of speculative faith, but as living reali

* Montgomery.

« AnteriorContinuar »