Page images

Is there any

memorate his love-how solemnly do we pledge ourselves to a daily life of cheerful duty, of unselfishness and brotherhood! But when we appear on the morrow in our homes and in our spheres of labour -do we carry about with us the halo of saintship that we wore in the church? Does it not fade in the frivolities of the modern household, or in the heat of competitive commerce ? Is it not reckoned sufficient that we are as good as our neighbours, up to the standard of conventional morality, as honest and charitable as men in general? Do we not decline that more should be expected at our hands? proportionate relation between the professions of Sunday and the doings of Monday? To the best of us, such questionings doubtless bring reproach and humiliation. Shall we, then, conclude that we have pitched our ideal too high, and that we cannot sustain the banner we have lifted up? or shall we not rather search deeper into ourselves for the sources of defection ? Let us do both. Let us go over again the grounds of our original profession, and see whether the enthusiasm of our first love for truth did not exaggerate its commendations. If there be any article of our creed-written or implied-which we can no longer subscribe with our whole heart, let us blot it out. If any new light has stolen upon us, let it write itself upon our life. For be assured of this, insincerity is feebleness. Doubt may strengthenfalsehood, never. The dark waters of “unveracity' are near when one is unconsciously drifting from the anchorage of his early belief. Better, better far, that we confess ourselves still in quest of the true and right, than be unfaithful to what we profess to know. Better that we fall back into the ranks of the decorously devout, the respectably religious—that we take our place in the church with those who acknowledge no better reason for going there, than respect to the custom of their fathers, the institutions of their country, and, as by an afterthought, to the claims of God—or that we range ourselves with those whose gospel is social improvement and secular education; who hope to ameliorate the present, and are well content to trust the unseen future to its invisible Ruler-better, far better, that we thus lowered our profession to our practice, than that we continue to Challenge the attention of the world as the elect and self-devoted servants of God, and cast discredit upon a vocation that men are naturally slow to admit.

Whatever the admission of personal consciousness, the condition of our societies will not permit us to doubt that the disparity we have supposed in the individual does exist in the body. On one point, at least, the leaders of Dissent are unanimous namely, that it is far behind its capabilities and the demands upon it of the age. It may be that we are in no respect absolutely worse than our fathers, there is no doubt that in some particulars we are better-but it is certain that we are relatively deficient. They were long ahead of the times—we do not keep pace with them. By the lowest measurement, the numerical, we are defective. We do not gain upon the population. Formerly, we had them to ourselves. Earnest, zealous, proselyting preaching was confined almost exclusively to Wesleyanism and Evangelical upon

Dissent. Now, out of twelve or fifteen thousand Church clergymen, a third, or a half, are devoted, diligent, and popular. Our sons and daughters do not hold to us. The working classes we never had—but till lately they stood aloof from ignorant irreligiousness; now, from a hostility they deem enlightened. The middle classes of the towns are still our strength; but they are dividing themselves with others. Crowded chapels are the exception, and not the rule. If our ministers are not often perfunctory, our congregations are frequently listless and formal. Our Sunday schools, doubtless, do great good; but they do not recruit our churches. Of the scholars in our day schools, only a fraction remain under our influence. Our machinery of visitation is extensive and active; but it adds little to our power. Our influence upon the legislature is considerable ; but it is seldom put forth but to our own damage. Of our literature, we will say nothing. Wė raise great sums of money for objects common to our Christianity, but very little for purposes distinctive of our principles. It may be that those principles, though true, are of subordinate place—but if so, we do wrong to make them a ground of separation. Thus we come round to our former position. · Corporately, as individually, we are feeble because inharmonious. We lack the strength that unity alone can give-the unity of a man with himself, of a community with its central idea. The personal and practical in religion—in opposition to the territorial and the ritual—we take as the basis of our ecclesiastical existence; but we refuse to make it the ground of action. We stand

and defend it, but will not advance along it to aggression. It is the soul of our Church system, but we restrain it from its natural development. If allowed freedom, it would push itself through every fibre of our being, and inspire every member with healthful energy-as it is, it is driven to display itself in topical eruptions, while the limbs are feeble and shrunken.

Let us mention one or two particulars in which it appears to us this imperfect development of a central principle is a cause of spiritual weakness to the individual and to the body.

We specify first, the low degree in which freedom of opinion is enjoyed among us. State-churchism makes diversity of belief a ground of political inequality. It elevates the creed of a sect into a place among the laws of a nation, and naturally regards a departure from the one as a transgression of the other. It is the legitimate fruit of this system-and, to our thinking, one of its worst results—that · orthodoxy' and · heterodoxy' have become possessed of a similar meaning with the words ' respectable' and 'vulgar;' and that throughout good society, independent religious opinion is a social offence. Congregational Dissent embodies an opposite principle. While requiring of

. its members the confession of belief in certain objective truths, it does not acknowledge any human formula as setting forth those truths. It leaves each to express his own convictions in his own words. It thereby charters the liberty of the intellect, as well as asserts the right of conscience. But does the legitimate result follow here also ? Certainly, there is not the perceptible difference that might be expected


between the atmosphere of the two worlds. Men say of us, that we are staunch defenders of the liberty of belief, but not of the liberty of misbelief—that in words we claim the right of private judgment for all, but visit with proscription those who exercise it amiss—that however liberal up to a certain point, we are stubbornly intolerant beyond it—that our greatest literateur, John Foster, is, comparatively, little read amongst us, because he cherished with a sort of fierce secrecy one or two doctrines that vitiated his whole theological system—that some of our leading preachers act upon the questionable doctrine of reserve rather than hazard extensive usefulness by incurring the odium of unsoundness—and that in our educated circles, religious conversation is confined to generalities, for the sake of peace in families and the stability of friendships. This is said of us by men without our pale, and sorrowfully confessed by many within it. By some, the truth of the representation may be denied; by others, this state of things may be admitted and defended. We are content to repeat the allegation, and to say, that so far as it is true, we are false, and consequently feeble; false to the spirit of our central principle, and especially feeble towards the class of minds which a Church must secure or itself decay—the intellectual and the ardent.

We mention as another particular, the want of activity in religious works amongst professing Christians generally. How many of us are possessed of the pure and undefiled religion' defined by the apostlevisiting the widows and fatherless in their affliction? Are we “hearers' of the word but not doers “thereof?' and do we not deceive our own selves' thereby? And should we not be healthier and stronger if we made provision for our mutual edification. The prayer-meeting, in which a deacon presides, and may, perhaps, 'expound,' is not such; and if the Sunday-school be suggested, the objection is at hand, that to teach children and to speak to one's fellow-men, are considerably diverse acts. Nor can the little •lay preaching,' that may

be in vogue, be put forth as supplying what we mean. That is Evangelization. What we suggest is, an accommodation to modern circumstances of the practice that obviously obtained in the Jewish synagogue and the early Christian congregation. The suggestion, however, is not novel, nor does it lack either arguments for or against its adoption; and, perhaps, it would be found both difficult to adopt and impracticable to work.

We notice, as a last and comprehensive instance, our relation to the political position of the general people. If Dissent were a matter of Church government merely, our mode would pledge us to strong sympathy with the democratic in general politics. But the principle we have been viewing, leads direct to something more than sympathy. It invests the individual, however humble in worldly station, with the dignity of a being capable of reason and decision upon the highest subjects of thought. It invites the poorest and most illiterate into a society which is a company of believers as well as worshippers. How, then, can it permit his degradation by civil governments to the rank of a nonentity, without a protest and a continuous effort on his behalf? The Church, in its corporate capacity, may not be at liberty to interfere here ; but surely on its members is laid an obligation cognate to that of feeding and warming the poor brother. There are many who feel and act upon this reasoning; but they are so few as to deprive their action, in the eyes of the world, of that character which reflects honour and influence on their Church. The democratic activity of the few is naturally attributed to their personal temperament or non-religious opinions. It will be when Dissenters, as a body, are as decided in their demand for the enfranchisement of the masses, as they are vehement in opposition to an offensive Chapels Bill, that the masses will give them credit for faith in those divine truths which French philosophy has condensed into the symbols, ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. When they are convinced of our faith in the essential brotherhood of man, they will have advanced within ear-shot of our preachings, and will turn a kindly, grateful eye upon those institutions which they at present regard as but a mitigated form of the superstitions and bigotries of an established religion.

Literature and Christianity.

LITERATURE is man written; his thoughts, creations, discoveries, deeds, and the varied events of his outer and inner life, transcribed in legible and permanent forms for the study of others. A book is a second incarnation of man's mental self. In it he lives and works, centuries after his former body has crumbled into dust. It is no new thing in the world. Its history dates far back as the birth of the first earnest soul. The susceptibilities of impression, the powers of reflec. tion, the social and religious sympathies which belong to our common nature, viewed in connexion with the circumstances which mark our terrestrial life-circumstances ever potently tending to heave the emotions, startle the thoughts, and rouse the imagination, dispose us to give to literature a very early date, and to hold the belief that man, at the very outset of his conscious history, commenced a record of himself. Oh that my words were written! oh that they were printed in a book, that they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever!' This impassioned utterance may be fairly regarded as the irrepressible desire of the human soul under the exciting circumstances of its earthly life to register its history, and as pointing us back to the remotest antiquity for the origin of the art. Egypt, Persia, Greece, and Rome, all had their authors. The Alexandrian library, with its hundred thousand volumes, presents no feeble idea of the extent of its influence in the earliest periods of the world's history, The invention of printing, by Guttenberg, a humble mechanic of Strasburg, gave it at once a new epoch and a new impulse. The press

has widened and enriched the republic of letters a thousand-fold. As the first book that issued from the press was The Book, Strasburg becomes to us a second Bethlehem—the birthplace of a divine messenger that is destined to speak the thoughts of God to the extremities of the globe and to the end of time.

But it comes not within our purpose now to trace the history of letters; our aim in this paper is exclusively practical. What is our duty as Christians in relation to the press ? Are we to oppose literature-set our faces against it as against a social demon? Is it our duty to do as many intimate-as some argue-shiver the press because of its corrupt influence, and turn the libraries of the world into bonfires ? This question is settled with us by determining another; namely, Does Christianity sanction the principle of diffusing and perpetuating the thoughts and doings of men-or not? Does it allow men to scatter their sentiments abroad, and send themselves down to future generations in books—or not? We have no hesitation in propounding the affirmative. Give attendance to reading, is an injunction implying at once that the principle of literature is divinely authorized, and that attention to literature is divinely demanded. In addition to this, there are such confirmatory considerations as the following :Literature is a natural development. It starts from two of the primal principles in man— the impartive and the receptive tendency - a

strong disposition at once to communicate thoughts and to receive them. Who is not conscious of the constant working of these correlative powers within him? These are the bonds of society. They unite men together by the ties of mutual obligation. They prompt and enable the noble and the pure to breathe their sentiments and spirit into the age in which they live, and thus lift it toward their own ideal. They are the wellspring of literature. They make the author and the reader too. The one furnishes the producer, and the other the consumer in the great mart of letters. Now to us it is an axiom in thought, that what is really natural is really right, and what is really right is really Christian. Again, Christianity is transmitted through literature. The communications of Heaven to the fathers and to the prophets; the biography of Jesus and the thoughts of the apostles; these world-renovating and saving forces would never have reached us but for the pen. Hence no command did the world's Saviour, in his final Apocalypse, repeat with more frequency or earnestness, than-WRITE. Moreover, Christianity stimulates the literary propensities of man. It has historically proved itself the mental awakener—the archangel's trump to summons dead minds from their graves. Most of the great authors were trained under its influence. The choicest flowers that adorn, and the finest fruits that enrich the fields of literature, have sprung either directly or indirectly from Christian minds. The truth is, Christianity gives a new eye to intellect, a new wing to fancy, a new pulse and spring to the thinking life. These remarks are, we presume, sufficient to show that Christianity sanctions literature, and that therefore we dare not oppose it. No, my pious friend, my cynic reader; bad as books are, corrupt as is the

« PreviousContinue »