« PreviousContinue »
he became extravagantly fond. I was vexed to see him give into a taste so destructive of all sobriety and prudence in youth, and cannot but take notice of the providential manner in which he was delivered. While I was one day expounding in my school at Carthage, an allusion to the Circensian games occurred as proper to illustrate my subject, on which occasion I severely censured those who were fond of that madness. I meant nothing for Alypius; but thou, Lord, who hadst designed him for a minister of thy word, and who wouldst make it manifest, that his correction should be thy own work, infixedst a deep sting of conviction into his heart; he believed that I spake it on his account, loved me the more for it, and shook off the Circensian follies. But he was afterwards involved in Manicheism with me, deceived by the appearance of good. Afterwards he came to Rome, to learn the law, and there was ensnared with a new evil, a fondness for the barbarous sports of gladiators, to which he had had a strong aversion. Some friends of his carried him to them by force, while he declared, with great confidence, that his mind and eyes should still be alienated from those spectacles. For a while he closed his eyes with great resolution, till on a certain occasion, when the whole house rang with shouting, overcome by curiosity, he opened his eyes to see what was the matter. Beholding a gladiator wounded, on the sight of the blood, he was inebriated with the sanguinary pleasure. He gazed, he shouted, he was inflamed, he carried away with him the madness, which stimulated him to repeat his visits; he became enamoured of the sports, even more than those who had dragged him thither against his will, and seduced others. Thence thou, with a strong and merciful hand, recoveredst him at length, but long after, and taughtest him to put his confidence not in himself, but in thee. On another occasion, Alypius was apprehended as a thief, and circumstances seemed to tell so much against him, that it was by a particular providence his innocence was cleared. But he was to be a dispenser of thy word, an examiner of many causes in thy Church, and he learnt caution and wisdom from this event.
* It is obvious to observe hence the folly of self-confidence, and the bewitching power of temptation over so weak and corrupt a creature as man. Many who would deem it impossible that they should enter with spirit into the obscenity of the stage, or the cruelties of the slave-trade, by a little indulgence may soon become what beforehand they would abhor.
Him I found at Rome, and he removed with me to Milan, and practised in the law with uncommon uprightness and integrity. With me he was uncertain, with respect to his plan of religion and the way of happiness. My friend Nebridius also left a good paternal estate in the neighbourhood of Carthage, for the sake of enjoying my company; and we three were panting after happiness, till thou shouldst give us meat in due season; and amidst all the bitterness which attended. our worldly concerns, while we were wishing to see the end of these things, we found ourselves in darkness, and we said, with sighs, how long?-yet we still followed objects with which we were dissatisfied, because we knew nothing better to substitute in their room.
As to myself in particular, I reviewed attentively how long I had been in pursuit of the true wisdom, with a determination to give up secular pursuits, in case of success. I had begun at nineteen, and I was now in my thirtieth year, still miserable, anxious, procrastinating, fed with tantilizing hopes, solicited in my conscience to set apart a portion of time each day for the care of my soul. "Your mornings are for your pupils: why do not you employ to serious purpose the afternoons but then what time shall I have to attend the levees of the great, and to unbend my mind with necessary relaxation? What then, if death should suddenly seize you, and judgment overtake you unprepared? Yet, on the other side, what if death itself be the extinction of my being? But far be from my soul the idea. God would never have given such high proofs of credibility to Christianity, nor have shewn himself so marvellously among men, if the life of the soul be consumed with the death of the body. Why then do not I give myself wholly to seek God? But do not be in too great a hurry. You have friends of consequence, by whom you may rise in the world!"
In such an agitation of mind as this did I live, seeking happiness, and yet flying from it. To be divorced from the enjoyments of the world I could not bear, particularly from female society; and as I had no idea of acquiring continency but by my own strength, I was a stranger to the way of prayer and divine supply of grace. Thou, Lord, wilt give, if we solicit thine ears with internal groaning, and in solid faith cast our care on thee. My mother was solicitous and importunate for my being married, that I might in that state receive baptism. And I agreed to marry a young person, who was at present too young; as she was agreeable to me,
I consented to wait almost two years. During this interval, a number of us, about ten in all, formed a scheme of living in common in a society separate from the world, in which a townsman of mine, Romanianus, a man of considerable opulence, was particularly earnest. But some of us being mar. ried men, and others desirous of becoming so, the scheme came to nothing. Thou deridest our plans, and preparedst thine own, meaning to give us food in due season, and to open thine hand, and fill our souls with blessedness. In the meantime my sins were multiplied, and the woman with whom I had cohabited, returning into Africa under a vow of never more being acquainted with our sex, and leaving with me a natural son which I had by her, I, impatient of the delay, took another woman in her room. Praise and glory be to thee, O fountain of mercies, I became more miserable, and thou approachedst nearer. Thou wast going to snatch me out of the mire of pollution, and I knew it not. The fear of death and future judgment was the check which restrained me. This had never left me, amidst the variety of opinions with which I was agitated, and I owned to Alypius and Nebridius, that the Epicurean doctrine would have had the preference in my judgment, could I have fallen in with Epicurus's idea of the annihilation of the man at death; and I inquired why we might not be happy, if we were immortal, and lived in a perpetual state of voluptuousness without any fear of losing it, ignorant as I was of the misery of being so drenched in carnality, as not to see the excellency of embracing goodness itself for its own sake. I did not consider, that I conferred on these base topics with friends whom I loved, and was incapable of tasting pleasure, even according to the carnal ideas I then had of pleasure without friends.*
O my serpentine ways! Wo to the soul which presumed, if it departed from thee, that it should find any thing better. I turned backward and forward on my sides, my back, and my belly, and all things were hard, and thou alone my rest; and lo! thou comest and freest us from our miserable delusions, and placest us in thy way, and comfortest us, and sayest, Run, and I will bear you; I will carry you through and bear you still."
A strong intimation that happiness consists in love, or friendship. Whence the pleasure of friendship with Jesus, an almighty, all-sufficient friend, made man for us, and sympathizing with us, appears to give us the just and adequate idea of bliss.
(Continued from the Number for January.)
WE shall just advert, in conclusion, to some of the objections that have been commonly urged against Church Establishments.
And, first, it has been objected that the Establishment of Religion by the State is unjust: "Some men may, and do, exist in every country where such a religion is established, who differ from the majority in their opinions and sentiments: why, then, should the decision of a majority be made the rule of another man's conscience ?" Such is the objection, on the score of justice, and it has, at least, the appearance of great plausibility. But, a prepossessing appearance is almost all the merit that it has. All legislation, in free countries like our own, must proceed from the voice of the majority. Independently of that, we have only the choice of two alternatives: the minority must rule, or the country must be deprived of rule altogether. If the minority hold the ascendancy, then, where injury does exist, greater wrong is inflicted on the many, than formerly was inflicted on the few. But, may not legislation in religion be dispensed with altogether? It certainly might. He would be a bold man that would deny the possibility of such an event: but, the same plea of injustice that would dispense with all interference of the legislature in matters of religion, would also dispense with it in matters of civil life. On this principle, it would be very unjust to levy taxes from the Quaker, for the defence of the State, because he disavows at once the lawfulness of defensive and aggressive war: it would be very unjust to exact money of the miser, for the support of a well-organised police, because he imagines that he can hold his money sufficiently secure, without the expensiveness of such an institution: it would be very unjust to apply the statutes of the land to the Radical and the Revolutionist, for the support of the aristocracy and the throne, because they think that they can do very well without those elements of the united government of the country.
Besides the establishment of the true religion in a country where there is free toleration of religious opinion, whilst it cannot be construed as a tax on the liberty of any man's conscience, must be attended with many indirect benefits to those very persons who differ from the sentiments maintained and disseminated by that establishment. The general tone of society will be raised and strengthened, the morality, and peace, and comforts of human life will be increased, and elevated, and enlarged; and the mutual forbearance,-produced by the influence of a passive toleration,-will draw forth, in
all rational men, the sympathies of affection and esteem, and finally tend to the fuller elucidation and more permanent establishment of the truth.
Another objection frequently urged against the public support of religion is, that it is contrary to the method in which Christianity was propagated during the first three centuries This is another specious sophism, which has been of late sufficiently exposed; and turned with admirable dexterity against the adversary. We admire much the spirituality of our opponents; but we would disiderate a little more of their common sense. How was it possible that the religion of Christ should be established in the world, when he was as yet but an infant of days, and his followers few and inconsiderable? Was the religion of the Jews immediately established, when Abraham was called out of Ur of Chaldea? Was the whole apparatus of tithes and offerings, of money of ransom, and cities of refuge, instantaneously reared up, when the patriarch sojourned in the land wherein he was a stranger? Was the Jewish theocracy the voluntary superstructure of a day? Assuredly not. A period of no less than four hundred and thirty years elapsed from the call of the father of the faithful, until the establishment of his religion in the midst of his descendants. If the argument of the Voluntaries is worth any thing, it amounts to this, that since the Jewish religion existed without a civil establishment, from the call of Abraham until the giving of the law, it should have existed without an establishment still; that since that establishment did not exist sooner, it should not have existed at all. If the argument holds good in the one case, it must also hold good in the other. If the objection is valid when applied to the establishment of the religion of Christ, it must also be valid when applied to that of the Abrahamic dispensation. But it may be said, that however little depends upon the fact that the religion of Christ was not immediately established, much depends upon this, that we have the sanction of Divine authority for the establishment of the religion of the Jews, but we desiderate such a sanction for the establishment of that of Christ; why not proceed in the propagation of Christianity in the same manner as it was propagated by Christ and his apostles? Now, when we consider the quarter whence such a remonstrance proceeds, when we reflect on the peculiar nature of the religion established, when we advert to the agency employed at its first propagation, and when we attend to the evidence of the New Testament on the subject, such an objection must appear most unwarrantable. Every Evangelical Dissenter must grant that the religion of the Jews, as to its essential doctrines, and sanctions, and commands, is the same as that of Jesus Christ; and if the one is shewn to have been established, and that establishment unrepealed, when he