Page images


Merits of Dr. Robinson's Harmony.


the claim of these contested portions of the Word of God to our fullest confidence. We must not omit to speak of the very convenient tables for reference with which this work is provided, and which constitute no slight addition to its value. We have one which enables the reader to turn at once to any passage of the Gospels, the place of which he may wish to find in the Har. mony. We have another which presents a view of the prominent topics that are discussed in the notes, with a designation of the pages where they occur. And, finally, we have a third, which is of still greater importance, entitled Contents and Synopsis of the Harmony. Here all the events and transactions of the life of Christ, so far as they are related by the four Evangelists, are succinctly enumerated in the order in which they are supposed to have taken place. Each successive occurrence from the birth of the Saviour at Bethlehem to his ascension from the Mount of Olives, passes in review before us. It gives great distinctness to the representation that the locality or scene of the various erents is specified, so that we accompany, as it were, the great Teacher as He moves from place to place, instructing the people and performing his mighty works. The use of this table will prove invaluable to those who wish to transfer to their minds a connected view of the Saviour's history,

In a word, this work of Dr. Robinson, confines itself to the legitimate sphere of a Harmony of the Gospels; and we do not hesitate to say that in this sphere it will be found to be all that a Harmony need or can be. The original text is printed with accuracy and elegance. It is a feast to the eyes to look upon a page of so much beauty. The arrangement is distinguished for simplicity and convenience; and, except in those instances in which a new combination of the author has introduced what we think will commend itself to most judges as an improvement, it accords with that which has been adopted by the most approved critics. The notes are a help, not an incumbrance. They are from the hand of an experienced teacher, and written with a just appreciation of the wants of the student. Several of the discussions relating to points of special difficulty may be ranked among the best examples of critical reasoning in our language. No one will ever be able to comprehend the relations of the Gospels to each other, or acquire an exact knowledge of their contents, unless he studies them with the aid of a Harmony. The present work furnishes in this respect just the facility which is needed; and we trust that among its other effects, it will serve to direct attention more strongly to the importance of this mode of study.



By B. B. Edwards, Professor at Andover.

In the culture of the moral powers, it is a question of great importance, what shall constitute the standard of appeal? Where shall we look for the guiding manual, for those principles which shall mould the character, for those prudent maxims that shall have the authority of law ?

It is not enough to institute a severe scrutiny into the conduct, to watch carefully the motives, or the habitual deportment. There must be some standard of appeal, some external influences that shall be brought into contact with the character, in order to shape it aright; some elementary and suggestive truths, which shall, at the same time, act authoritatively, and be fitted to quicken and mould the moral and religious character.

The question, what this rule for the conduct shall be, has been answered variously. In actual practice, also, the sources of appeal in the last resort are different and sometimes conflicting. The most important of these sources may perhaps be included under five general classes.

1. In the first place, certain general, prudential maxims, which have been long current in the community, are regarded as a safe directory. They are partly written and partly unwritten. They are the result of a wide experience, of much sagacious observation. Some of them have come down through many ages, each generation proving their value, and adding the tribute of its applause. Certain individuals have become eminent as the authors of these economical precepts, and shrewd apothegms. Some of the most striking of these brief apothegms, or at least those which are most felicitously expressed, are embodied under the form of counsels for the young, or rules for the formation of the character.

The objections to this standard of appeal are two-fold. In the first place, it does not supply principles of action. It rather seeks to rectify the outward conduct. It is not so much a system of morals, or a part of one, as it is a collection of superficial rules.


The finer Sentiments an insufficient Guide.


It is the result of observation, rather than of reflection; or, if apreal be made to the motive, it is done in a prudential spirit, and in order to secure a fortunate and visible effect. It metes out its applause in proportion to the measure of actual success, not according to the purity of the intention. In the second place, it has respect to the present life. It confines its aims to what is seen and temporal. Its rewards are laid up in earthly store-houses, in gainful traffic, or in the proud consciousness which is felt by the worldly-wise man in the success of his sagacious speculations. It numbers among its great men the high-priests of fashion, the ministers of popular favor, those whose life is spent in efforts to please an undiscerning public, or to acquire the means of selfgratification. The whole system is shallow and unsatisfactory, often leading, in its boasted prudence, to a positive violation of the principles of virtue. The character which is formed under its influences may be totally selfish. It often creates a beautiful exterior, when beneath there is not one throb of virtuous emotion, one aspiration towards the disinterested rewards of heaven. Such wisdom can never be recommended as a safe guide.

2. In the second place, the appeal is sometimes made to what may be called the finer sentiments, to a class of feelings, partly the result of original temperament, and partly of education, which lead the soul to shrink, like the sensitive plant, from aught corrupt or degrading. The youth, when tempted to deviate from the path of virtue, is admonished to consult the better tendencies of his nature, to cherish a love for what is true and good and ennobling. He will find drawn in his own bosom a chart which shall guide him safely through every entanglement. Its lines may be obscure, but they are straight. They are not drawn by self-interest, but by self-respect. To trace them obediently and perseveringly will end in the formation of an elevated and finely proportioned character. Without calling in question the existence of these finer sentiments, it may be affirmed that they cannot answer the purpose of an adequate guide. They are wholly insufficient as a standard in educating the human soul. They have not enough of a fixed and ascertainable value. They are too delicate and evanescent. In order to attain a mature character, there must be stronger nutriment; to walk safely in the path of virtue, a firmer guide is demanded. In our better moments these finer feelings may visit the soul in their most attractive forms, and may appear competent to lead to the highest attainments in holiness; yet one hour has not elapsed before these beautiful visions seem


never to have had an existence, the soul is wholly abandoned to its selfish and earthward tendencies.

Besides, they are felt only by a limited number. They are in a great degree the result of an education to which the mass of men cannot aspire. They presuppose also a delicacy in the mental organization of which many of the educated are not conscious. Plato might have been attracted towards virtue by his sense of its fitness, congruity and exceeding beauty, while the thousands around him had no such perception and felt no such longing. To elevate, therefore, these rare and exquisitely formed feelings into the standard of right or a guide in orals, is vain. It-is beyond their prerogative.

3. In the third place, the appeal may be made to an elaborated system of morals. To the interrogatory, wherewithal shall a young man form his character, it might be replied, by taking heed, according to the directions of the moral philosopher. A treatise on ethics will furnish a safe and sufficient practical guide. The conduct may be regulated by the embodied wisdoin of the thoughtful moralist.

There are, however, some serious objections to this course. In the first place, these systems are not fitted for general use. They are designed for the student in his closet, rather than for the varied scenes of practical life. They are necessarily framed in a technical manner, and for their interpretation and application require more or less skill. They can never become a copious and living spring to which all thirsty souls may repair alike.

Again, the authors of these systems were more or less under the influence of prejudice. To prepare a sound and comprehensive ethical system, the moral sense of the writer must be in an enlightened and healthful state. All the other faculties of his soul should be so harmonized as to allow to conscience her supremacy, and minister to her the appropriate aid. A bitter fountain will not send out sweet waters. An ill balanced mind can never be a safe guide in morals. Mere intellect, however brilliant, can never furnish rules for holy living and dying. Now it is a notorious fact that some of the ablest ethical writers were men whose moral faculties had run to waste, the dialectic power completely overshadowing and dwarfing what should have been predominant

Hence, thirdly, we might expect, what we find, irreconcilable contradictions between different systems, error arrayed against truth, error in opposition to itself, correct views cunningly inter


Natural Religion insufficient.


mingled with those which are false, unsettled or hostile opinions in regard to the nature of virtue itself, disputes in respect to the source of moral obligation.

In such circumstances, it will be readily seen, that the religious character cannot be purified and perfected by adherence to these systems. Uncertainty cannot lead to certainty; a tranquil confidence is not the growth of self-contradictions. Some better manual is demanded than the most sagacious of these moralists can supply

While each of the three sources of influence in the formation of character, that have been mentioned, has its peculiar and inherent defects, two observations apply to all alike. Neither of them is to be set aside as useless. Each may bear its part in the great process of educating the soul. No wise man will reject an inferior help. All accessible recruits will be pressed into this spiritual warfare. The thoughts of some of the greatest of the race, the collected wisdom of ages will not be despised, because it wears the badge of human imperfection.

The second remark is, that they are all wanting in authority. They supply advice, they administer counsels; but they cannot enforce a penalty or bind the conscience. We are at perfect liberty to assent to or disown their teachings. To infallible truth, they make no pretension. The fatal defect, that there is no umpire, no authoritative arbiter, inheres in all these methods. We are run. ning along a dangerous shore, under the lead of an ignorant pilot.

4. Another source of appeal, which may be mentioned is the light of nature, the doctrines of natural religion. Some would direct the youthful inquirer to the works of God as the sufficient rule of life and source of moral influence. No thoughtful Christian will undervalue their testimony, in order to enhance the worth of a written revelation. The works of God are marvellous and are sought out by all them that take pleasure therein. The uses of the study of nature are manifold. It constitutes in a most important sense the basis of revealed religion. The Bible never attempts to prove some cardinal points. The being and some of the attributes of God, it takes for granted. He has impressed on nature fixed laws, not mere phantasms, not mere seeming substitutes for laws; and he has also made our minds capable of tracing effects to a cause, of inferring intelligence from design, and of entertaining settled convictions of the wisdom and goodness of the Creator. To disparage and reject this testimony is in fact to take away the corner stone of all true theology. VOL. III. No. 9.


« PreviousContinue »