ON THE SLENDER INFLUENCE OF MERE TASTE AND SENSIBILITY IN MATTERS OF RELIGlON.
"And, lo! thou art unto them as a very lovely song of
one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they
hear thy words, but they do them not." Ezek. xxxiii. 32.
You easily understand how a taste for music is one thing, and a real submission to the influence of religion is another - how the ear may be regaled by the melody of sound, and the heart may utterly refuse the proper impression of the sense that is conveyed by it - how the sons and daughters of the world may, with their every affection devoted to its perishable vanities, inhale all the delights of enthusiasm, as they sit in crowded assemblage around the deep and solemn oratorio - and whether it be the humility of penitential feeling, or the rapture of grateful acknowledgment, or the sublime of a contemplative piety, or the aspiration of pure and of holy purposes, which breathes throughout the words of the performance, and gives to it all the spirit and all the expression by which it is pervaded; it is a very possible thing, that the moral, and the rational, and the active man, may have given no entrance into his bosom for any of these sentiments; and yet so overpowered may he be by the charm of the vocal conveyance through which they are addressed to him, that he may be made to feel with such an emotion, and to weep with such a tenderness, and to kindle with such a transport, and to glow with such an elevation, as may one and all carry upon them the semblance of sacredness.
But might not this semblance deceive him? Have you never heard any tell, and with complaceny too, how powerfully his devotion was awakened by an act of attendance on the oratorio - how his heart, melted and subdued by the influence of harmony, did homage to all the religion of which it was the vehicle-how he was so moved and overborne, as to shed the tears of contrition, and to be agitated by the terrors of judgment, and to receive an awe upon his spirit of the greatness and the majesty of God and that, wrought up to the lofty pitch of eternity, he could look down upon the world, and by the glance of one commanding survey, pronounce upon the littleness and the vanity of all its concerns? It is indeed very possible that all this might thrill upon the ears of the man, and circulate a succession of solemn and affecting images around his fancy - and yet. that essential priciple of his nature, upon which the practical influence of Christianity turns, might have met with no reaching and no subduing efficacy whatever to arouse it. He leaves the exhibition, as dead in trespasses and sins as he came to it. Conscience has not wakened upon him. Repentance has not turned him. Faith has not made any positive lodgement within him of her great and her constraing realities. He speeds him back to his business and to his family, ned there he acts the old man in all the entireness of his uncrucifled temper, and of his obstinate worldliness, and of all those earthly and unsanctified affections which are found to cleave to him with as great tenacity as ever. He is really and experimentally the very same man as before - and all those sensibilities which seemed to bear upon them so much of the air and unction of heaven, are found to go into dissipation, and be forgotten with the loveliness of the song.
Amid all that illusion which such momentary visitations of seriousness and of sentiment throw around the character of man, let us never lose sight of the test, that "by their fruits ye shall know them." It is not coming up to this test, that you hear and are delighted. It is that you hear and do. This is the ground upon which the reality of your religion is discriminated now; and on the day of reckoning, this is the ground upon which your religion will be judged then; and that award is to be passed upon you, which will fix and perpetuate your destiny for ever. You have a taste for music. This no more implies the hold and the ascendancy of religion over you, than that you have a taste for beautiful scenery, or a taste for painting, or even a taste for the sensualities of epicurism.
But music may be made to express the glow and the movement of devotional feeling; and is it saying nothing to say that the heart of him who listens with a raptured ear, is, through the whole time of the performance, in harmony with such a movement? Why, it is saying nothing to the purpose. Music may lift the inspiring note of patriotism : and the inspiration may be felt; and it may thrill over the recesses of the soul, to the mustering up of all its energies; and it may sustain to the last cadence of the song, the firm nerve and purpose of intrepidity; and all this may be realized upon him, who, in the day of battle and upon actual collision with the dangers of it, turns out to be a coward. And music may lull the feelings into unison with piety; and stir up the inner man to lofty determinations; and so engage for a time his affections, that, as if weaned from the dust, they promise an immediate entrance on some great and elevated career, which may carry him through his pilgrimage superior to all the sordid and grovelling enticements that abound in it. But he turns him to the world, and all this glow abandons him; and the words which he had heard, he doeth them not; and in-the hour of temptation he turns out to be a deserter from the law of allegiance; and the test we have now specified looks hard upon him, and discriminates him amid all the parading insignificance of his fine but fugitive emotions, to be the subject both of present guilt and of future vengeance.
The faithful application of this test would put to flight a host of other delusions. It may be carried round amongst all those phenomena of human character, where there is the exhibition of something associated with religion, but which is not religion itself. An exquisite relish for music is no test of the influence of Christianity. Neither are many other of the exquisite sensibilities of our nature. When a kind mother closes the eyes of her expiring babe, she is thrown into a flood of sensibility, and soothing to her heart are the sympathy and the prayers of an attending minister. When a gathering neighbourhood assemble to the funeral of an acquaintance, one pervading sense of regret and tenderness sits on the faces of the company; and the deep silence, broken only by the solemn utterance of the man of God, carries a kind of pleasing religiousness along with it. The sacredness of the hallowed day, and all the decencies of its observation, may engage the affections of him who loves to walk in the footsteps of his father; and every recurring Sabbath may bring to his bosom the charm of its regularity and its quietness. Religion has its accompaniments; and in these there may be a something to sooth and to fascinate, even in the absence of the appropriate influences of religion. The deep and tender impression of a family bereavement, is not religion. The love of established decencies, is not religion. The charm of all that sentimentalism which is associated with many of its solemn and affecting services, is not religion. They may form the distinct folds of its accustomed drapery; but they do not, any, or all of them put together, make up the substance of the thing itself. A mothers tenderness may flow most gracefully over the tomb of her departed little one; and she may talk the while of that heaven whither its spirit has ascended. The man whom death hath widowed of his friend, may abandon himself to the movements of that grief, which for a time will claim an ascendancy over him; and, amongst the multitude of his other reveries, may love to hear of the eternity, where sorrow and separation are alike unknown. He who has been trained from his infant days to remember the Sabbath, may love the holiness of its aspect, and associate himself with all its observances, and take a delighted share in the mechanism of its forms.
But let not these think, because the tastes and the sensibilities which engross them, may be blended with religion, that they indicate either its strength or its existence within them. We recur to the test. We press its imperious exactions upon you. We call for fruit, and demand the permanency of a religious influence on the habits and the history. How many who take a flattering unction to their souls, when they think of their amiable feelings, and their becoming observations, with whom this severe touchstone would, like the head of Medusa, put to flight all their complacency! The afflictive dispensation is forgotten - and he on whom it was laid, is practically as indifferent to God and to eternity as before. The Sabbath services come to a close, and they are followed by the same routine of week-day worldliness as before. In neither the one case nor the other, do we see more of the radical influence of Christianity, than in the sublime and melting influence of sacred music upon the soul; and all this tide of emotion is found to die away from the bosom, like the pathos or like the loveliness of a song.
The instances may be multiphed without number. A man may have a taste for eloquence, and eloquence the most touching or sublime may lift her pleading voice on the side of religion. A man may love to have his understanding stimulated by the ingenuities, or the resistless urgencies of an argument; and argument the most profound and the most over-bearing, may put forth all the might of a constraining vehemence in behalf of religion. A man may feel the rejoicings of a conscious elevation, when some ideal scene of magnificence is laid before him; and where are these scenes so readily to be met with, as when led to expatiate in thought over the track of eternity, or to survey the wonders of creation, or to look to the magnitude of those great and universal interests which lie within the compass of religion? A man may have his attention riveted and regaled by that power of imitative description, which brings all the recollections of his own experience before him; which presents him with a faithful analysis of his own heart; which embodies in language such intimacies of observation and of feeling, as have often passed before his eyes, or played within his bosom, but had never been so truly or so ably pictured to the view of his remembrance.
Now, all this may be done in the work of pressing the duties of religion; in the work of instancing the applications of religion; in the work of pointing those allusions to life and to manners, which manifest the truth to the conscience, and plant such a conviction of sin, as forms the very basis of a sinners religion. Now, in all these cases, we see other principles brought into action, and which may be in a state of most lively and vigorous movement, and be yet in a state of entire separation from the principle of religion. We will venture to say, on the strength of these illustrations, that as much, delight may emanate from the pulpit on an arrested audience beneath it, as ever emanated from the boards of a theatre - and with as total a disjunction of mind too, in the one case as in the other, from the essence or the habit of religion.
We recur to the test. We make our appeal to experience; and we put it to you all, whether your finding upon the subject do not agree with our saying about it, that a man may weep and admire, and have many of his faculties put upon the stretch of their most intense gratification - his judgment established, and his fancy enlivened, and his feelings overpowered, and his hearing charmed as by the accents of heavenly persuasion, and all within him feasted by the rich and varied luxuries of an intellectual banquet!Oh ! it is cruel to frown unmannerly in the midst of so much satisfaction. But I must not forget that truth has her authority, as well as her sternness; and she forces me to affirm, that after all this has been felt and gone through, there might not be one principle which lies at the turning-point of conversion, that has experienced a single movement - not one of its purposes be conceived; not one of its doings be accomplished - not one step of that repentance, which, if we have not, we perish, so much as entered upon - not one announcement of that faith,, by which we are saved, admitted into a real and actual possession by the inner man. He has had his hours entertainment, and willingly does he award this homage to the performer, that he hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument - but, in another hour, it fleets away from his remembrance, and goes all to nothing, like the loveliness of a song.
Now, in bringing these Discourses to a close, we feel it our duty to advert to this exhibition or character in man. The sublime and interesting topic which has engaged us, however feebly it may have been handled; however inadequately it may have been put in all its worth, and in all its magnitude before you; however short the representation of the speaker, or the conception of the hearers, may have been of that richness, and that greatness, and that loftiness, which belong to it; possesses in itself a charm to fix the attention, and to regale the imagination, and to subdue the whole man into a delighted reverence; and, in a word, to beget such a solemnity of thought and of emotion, as may occupy and enlarge the soul for hours together, as may waft it away from the grossness of ordinary life, and raise it to a kind of elevated calm above all its vulgarities and all its vexations.
Now, tell us whether the whole of this effect upon the feelings may not be formed without the presence of religion. Tell us whether there might not be such a constitution of mind, that it may both want altogether that principle, in virtue of which the doctrines of Christianity are admitted into the behef, and the duties of Christianity are admitted into a government over the practice- and yet at the very same time, it may have the faculty of looking abroad over some scene of magnificence, and of being wrought up to ecstasy with the sense of all those glories among which it is expatiating. We want you to see clearly the distinction between these two attributes of the human character. They are, in truth, as different the one from the other, as a taste for the grand and the graceful of scenery differs from the appetite of hunger; and the one may both exist and have a most intense operation within the bosom of that very individual, who entirely disowns, and is entirely disgusted with the other. What! must a man be converted, ere from the most elevated peak of some Alpine wilderness, he become capable of feeling the force and the majesty of those great lineaments which the hand of nature has thrown around him, in the varied forms of precipice, and mountain, and the wave of mighty forests, and the rush of sounding waterfalls, and distant glimpses of human territory, and pinnacles of everlasting snow, and the sweep of that circling horizon, which folds in its ample embrace the whole of this noble amphitheatre? Tell us whether, without the aid of Christianity, or without a particle of reverence for the only Name given under heaven whereby men can be saved, a man may not kindle at such a perspective as this, into all the raptures, and into all the movements of a poetic elevation; and be able to render into the language of poetry, the whole of that sublime and beauteous imagery which adorns it, and, as if he were treading on the confines of a sanctuary which he has not entered, may he not mix up with the power and the enchantment of his description, such allusions to the presiding genius of the scene; or to the still but animating spirit of the solitude; or to the speaking silence of some mysterious character which reigns throughout the landscape; or, in fine, to that Eternal Spirit, who sits behind the elements He has formed, and combines them into all the varieties of a wide and a wondrous creation? Might not all this be said and sung with an emphasis so moving, as to spread the colouring of piety over the pages of him who performs thus well upon his instrument; and yet, the performer himself have a conscience unmoved by a single warning of Gods actual communication, and the judgment unconvinced, and the fears unawakened, and the life unreformed by it?
Now, what is true of a scene on earth, is also true of that wider and more elevated scene which stretches over the immensity around it, into a dark and a distant unknown. Who does not feel an aggrandizement of thought and of faculty, when he looks abroad over the amplitudes of creation when, placed on a telescopic eminence, his aided eye can find a pathway to innumerable worlds - when that wondrous field, over which there had hung for many ages the mantle of so deep an obscurity, is laid open to him, and, instead of a dreary and unpeopled solitude, he can see over the whole face of it such an extended garniture of rich and goodly habitations? Even the Atheist, who tells us that the universe is self-existent and indestructible - even he, who instead of seeing the traces of a manifold wisdom in its manifold varieties, sees nothing in them all but the exquisite structures and the lofty dimensions of materialism - even he, who would despoil creation of its God, cannot look upon its golden suns, and their accompanying systems, without the solemn impression of a magnificence that fixes and overpowers him.
Now, conceive such a belief of God as you all profess, to dawn upon his understanding. Let him become as one of yourselves - and so be put into the condition of rising from the sublime of matter to the sublime of mind. Let him now learn to subordinate the whole of this mechanism to the design and authority of a great presiding Intelligence: and re-assembling all the members of the universe, however distant, into one family, let him mingle with his former conceptions of the grandeur which belong to it, the conception of that Eternal Spirit who sits enthroned on the immensity of His own wonders, and embraces all that He has made, within the ample scope of one great administration. Then will the images and the impressions of sublimity come in upon him from a new quarter. Then will another avenue be opened, through which a sense of grandeur may find its way into his soul, and have a mightier influence than ever to fill, and to elevate, and to expand it. Then will be established a new and a noble association, by the aid of which all that he formerly looked upon as fair, becomes more lovely; and all that he formerly looked upon as great, becomes more magnificent. But will you believe us, that even with this accession to his mind of ideas gathered from the contemplation of the Divinity; even with that pleasurable glow which steals over his imagination, when he now thinks of the majesty of God; even with as much of what you would call piety, all, we fear, is enough to sooth and to satisfy many of yourselves, and which stirs and kindles within you when you hear the goings forth of the Supreme set before you in the terms of a lofty representation; even with all this, we say, there may be as wide a distance from the habit amid the character of godliness, as if God was still atheistically disowned by him. Take the conduct of his life and the currency of his affections; and you may see as little upon them of the stamp of loyalty to God, or of reverence for any one of his authenticated proclamations, as you may see in him who offers his poetic incense to the genii, or weeps enraptured over the visions of a beauteous mythology. The sublime of Deity has wrought up his soul to a pitch of conscious and pleasing elevation - and yet this no more argues the will of Deity to have a practical authority over him, than does that tone of elevation which is caught by looking at the sublime of a naked materialism. The one and the other have their little hour of ascendancy over him; and when he turns him to the rude and ordinary world, both vanish alike from his sensibilities, as does the loveliness of a song.
To kindle and be elevated by a sense of the majesty of God, is one thing. It is totally another thing, to feel a movement of obedience to the will of God, under the impression of His rightful authority over all the creatures whom He has formed. A man may have an imagination all alive to the former; while the latter never prompts him to one act of obedience; never leads him to compare his life with the requirements of the Lawgiver; never carries him from such a scrutiny as this, to the conviction of sin; never whispers such an accusation to the ear of his conscience, as causes him to mourn, and to be in heaviness for the guilt of his hourly and habitual rebellion; never shuts him up to the conclusion of the need of a Saviour; never humbles him to acquiescence in the doctrine of that revelation, which comes to his door with such a host of evidence, as even his own philosophy cannot bid away; never extorts a single believing prayer in the name of Christ, or points a single look, either of trust or of reverence, to His atonement; never stirs any effective movement of conversion; never sends an aspiring energy into his bosom after the aids of that Spirit, who alone can waken him out of his lethargies, and by the anointing which remaineth, can rivet and substantiate in his practice, those goodly emotions which have hitherto led him with the deceitfulness of their momentary visits, and then capriciously abandoned him.
The mere majesty of Gods power and greatness, when offered to your notice, lays hold of one of the faculties within you. The holiness of God, with His righteous claim of legislation, lays hold of another of these faculties. The difference between them is so great, that the one may be engrossed and interested to the full, while the other remains untouched, and in a state of entire dormancy. Now, it is no matter what it be that ministers delight to the former of these two faculties : If the latter be not arrested and put on its proper exercise, you are making no approximation whatever to the right habit and character of religion. There are a thousand ways in which we may contrive to regale your taste for that which is beauteous and majestic. It may find its gratification in the loveliness of a vale, or in the freer and bolder outlines of an upland situation, or in the terrors of a storm, or in the sublime contemplations of astronomy, or in the magnificent idea of a God who sends forth the wakefulness of His omniscient eye, and the vigour of His upholding hand, throughout all the realms of nature and of providence.
The mere taste of the human mind may get its ample enjoyment in each and in all of these objects, or in a vivid representation of them; nor does it make any material difference, whether this representation be addressed to you from the stanzas of a poem, or from the recitations of a theatre, or finally from the discourses and the demonstrations of a pulpit. And thus it is, that still on the impulse of the one principle only, people may come in gathering multitudes to the house of God; and share with eagerness in all the glow and bustle of a crowded attendance; and have their every eye directed to the speaker; and feel a responding movement in their bosom to his many appeals and his many arguments; and carry a solemn and overpowering impression of all the services away with them; and yet, throughout the whole of this seemly exhibition, not one effectual knock may have been given at the door of conscience. The other principle may be as profoundly asleep, as if hushed into the insensibility of death. There is a spirit of deep slumber, it would appear, which the music of no description, even though attuned to a theme so lofty as the greatness and majesty of the Godhead, can ever charm away. Oh! it may have been a piece of parading insignificance altogetherthe minister playing on his favourite instrument, and the people dissipating away their time on the charm and idle luxury of a theatrical emotion. The religion of taste, is one thing. The religion of conscience, is another.
We recur to the test. What is the plain and practical doing which ought to issue from the whole of our argument? If one lesson come more clearly or more authoritatively out of it than another, it is the supremacy of the Bible. If fitted to impress one movement rather than another; it is that movement of docility in virtue of which, man, with the feeling that he has all to learn, places himself in the attitude of a little child, before the book of the unsearchable God, who has deigned to break His silence, and to transmit even to our age of the world, a faithful record of his own communication. What progress then are you making in this movement? Are you, or are you not, like new-born babes, desiring the sincere milk of the word, that you may grow thereby? How are you coming on in the work of casting down your lofty imaginations? With the modesty of true science, which is here at one with the humblest and most penitentiary feeling which Christianity can awaken, are you bending an eye of earnestness on the Bible, and appropriating its informations, and moulding your every conviction to its doctrines and its testimonies? How long, we beseech you, has this been your habitual exercise? By this time do you feel the darkness and the insufficiency of nature? Have you found your way to the need of an atonement? Have you learned the might and efficacy which are given to the principle of faith? Have you longed with all your energies to realize it? Have you broken loose from the obvious misdoings of your former history? Are you convinced of your total deficiency from the spiritual obedience of the affections? Have you read of the Holy Ghost, by whom renewed in the - whole desire and character of your mind, you are led to run with alacrity in the way of the commandments? Have you turned to its practical use, the important truth, that He is given to the believing prayers of all, who really want to be reheved from the power both of secret and of visible iniquity? We demand something more than the homage you have rendered to the pleasantness of the voice that has been sounded in your hearing. What we have now to urge upon you, is the bidding of the voice, to read, and to reform, and to pray, and, in a word, to make your consistent step from the elevations of philosophy, to all those exercises, whether of doing or of believing, which mark the conduct of the earnest, and the devoted, and the subdued, and the aspiring Christian.
This brings under our view, a most deeply interesting exhibition of human nature, which may often be witnessed among the cultivated orders of society. When a teacher of Christianity addresses himself to that principle of justice within us, by which we feel the authority of God to be a prerogative which righteously belongs to Him, he is then speaking the appropriate language of religion, and is advancing its naked and appropriate claim over the obedience of mankind. He is then urging that pertinent and powerful consideration, upon which alone he can ever hope to obtain the ascendancy of a practical influence over the purposes and the conduct of human beings. It is only by insisting on the moral claim of God to a right of government over his creatures, that he can carry their loyal subordination to the will of God. Let him keep by this single argument, and urge it upon the conscience, and then, without any of the other accompaniments of what is called Christian oratory, he may bring convincingly home upon his hearers all the varieties of Christian doctrine. He may establish within their minds the dominion of all that is essential in the faith of the New Testament. He may, by carrying out this principle of Gods authority into all its applications, convince them of sin. He may lead them to compare the loftiness and spirituality of His law, with the habitual obstinacy of their own worldly affections. He may awaken them to the need of a Saviour. He may urge them to a faithful and submissive perusal of Gods own communication. He may thence press upon them the truth and the immutability of their Sovereign. He may work in their hearts an impression of this emphatic saying,, that God is not to be mocked - that His law must be upheld in all the significancy of its proclamations - and that either its severeties must be discharged upon the guilty, or in some other way an adequate provision be found for its outraged dignity, and its violated sanctions.
Thus may he lead them to flee for refuge to the blood of the atonement. And he may further urge upon his hearers, that such is the enormity of sin, that it is not enough to have found an expiation for it; that its power and its existence must be eradicated from the hearts of all who are to spend their eternity in the mansions of the celestial; that for this purpose, an expedient is made known to us in the New Testament; that a process must be described upon earth, to which there is given the appropriate name of sanctification; that, at the very commencement of every true course of discipleship, this process is entered upon with a purpose in the mind of forsaking all; that nothing short of a single devotedness to the will of God, will ever carry us forward through the successive stages of this holy and elevated career; that to help the infirmities of our nature, the Spirit is ever in readiness to be given to those who ask it: and that thus the life of every Christian becomes a life of entire dedication to Him who died for us - a life of prayer and vigilance, and close dependence on the grace of God - and, as the infallible result of the plain but powerful and peculiar teaching of the Bible, a life of vigorous unwearied activity in the doing of all the commandments.
Now, this we should call the essential business of Christianity. This is the truth as it is in Jesus, in its naked and unassociated simplicity. In the work of urging it, nothing more might have been done, than to present certain views, which may come with as great clearness and freshness, and take as full possession of the mind of a peasant, as of the mind of a philosopher. There is a sense of God, and of the rightful allegiance that is due to Him. There are plain and practical appeals to the conscience. There is a comparison of the state of the heart, with the requirements of a law which proposes to take the heart under its obedience. There is the inward discernment of its coldness about God; of its unconcern about the matters of duty and of eternity; of its devotion to the forbidden objects of sense; of its constant tendency to nourish within its own receptacles, the very element and principle of rebellion, and in virtue of this, to send forth the stream of an hourly and accumulating disobedience over those doings of the outer man, which make up his visible history in the world. There is such an earnest and overpowering impression of all this, as will fix a man down to the single object of deliverance; as will make him awake only to those realities which have a significant and substantial bearing on the case that engrosses him; as will teach him to nauseate all the impertinences of tasteful and ambitious description; as will attach him to the truth in its simplicity; as will fasten his every regard upon the Bible, where, if he persevere in the work of honest inquiry, he will soon be made to perceive the accordancy between its statements, and all those movements of fear, or guilt, or deeply felt necessity, or conscious darkness, stupidity, and unconcern about the matters of salvation, which pass within his own bosom; in a word, as will endear to him that plainness of speech, by which his own experience is set evidently before him, amid that plain phraseology of Scripture, which is best fitted to bring home to him the doctrine of redemptrnn, in all the truth and in all the preciousness of its applications.
Now, the whole of this work may be going on, - and that too in the wisest and most effectual manner, without so much as one particle of incense being offered to any of the subordinate principles of the human constitution. There may be no fascinations of style. There may be no magnificence of description. There may be no poignancy of acute and irresistible argument. There may be a riveted attention on the part of those whom the Spirit of God hath awakened to seriousness. about the plain and affecting realities of conversion. Their conscience may be stricken, and their appetite be excited for an actual settlement of mind on those points about which they feel restless and unconfirmed. Such as these are vastly too much engrossed with the exigencies of their condition, to be repelled by the homeliness of unadorned truth. And thus it is, that while the loveliness of the song has done so little in helping on the influences of the gospel, our men of simplicity and prayer have done so much for it. With a deep and earnest impression of the truth themselves, they have made manifest that truth to the consciences of others. Missionaries have gone forth with no other preparation than the simple Word of the Testimony,and thousands have owned its power, by being both the hearers of the word and the doers of it also. They have given us the experiment in a state of unmingled simplicity; and we learn, from the success of their noble example, that without any one human expedient to charm the ear, the heart may, by the naked instrumentality of the Word of God, urged with plainness on those who feel its deceit and its worthlessness, be charmed to an entire acquiescence in the revealed way of God, and have impressed upon it the genuine stamp and character of godliness.
Could the sense of what is due to God be effectually stirred up within the human bosom, it would lead to a practical carrying of all the lessons of Christianity. Now, to awaken this moral sense, there are certain simple relations between the creature and the Creator, which must be clearly apprehended, and manifested with power unto the conscience. We believe, that however much philosophers may talk about the comparative ease of forming those conceptions which are simple, they will, if in good earnest after a right footing with God, soon discover in their own minds, all that darkness and incapacity about spiritual things, which are so broadly announced to us in the New Testament. And oh! it is a deeply interesting spectacle, to behold a man, who can take a masterly and commanding survey over the field of some human speculation, who can clear his discriminated way through all the turns and ingenuities of some human arguement, who, by the march of a mighty and resistless demonstration, can scale with assured footstep the sublimities of science, and, from his firm stand on the eminence he has won, can descry some wondrous range of natural or intellectual truth spread out in subordination before him: - and yet this very man, may, in reference to the moral and authoritative claims of the Godhead, be in a state of utter apathy and blindness! All his attempts, either at the spiritual discernment, or the practical impression of this doctrine, may be arrested and baffled by the weight of some great inexplicable impotency. A man of homely talents, and still homlier education, may see what he cannot see, and feel what he cannot feel; and wise and prudent as he is, there may be the barrier of an obstinate and impenetrable concealment, between his accomplished mind, and those things which are revealed unto babes.
But while his mind is thus utterly devoid of what may be called the main or elemental principle of theology, he may have a far quicker apprehension, and have his taste and his feelings much more powerfully interested, than the simple Christian who is beside him, by what may be called the circumstantials of theology. He can throw a wider and more rapid glance over the magnitudes of creation. He can be more delicately alive to the beauties and the sublimities which abound in it. He can, when the idea of a presiding God is suggested to him, have a more kindling sense of His natural majesty, and be able, both in imagination and in words, to surround the throne of the Divinity by the blazonry of more great, and splendid, and elevating images. And yet, with all those powers of conception which he does possess, he may not possess that on which practical Christianity hinges. The moral relation between him and God, may neither be effectively perceived, nor faithfully proceeded on. Conscience may be in a state of the most entire dormancy, and the man be regaling himself with the magnificence of God, while he neither loves God, nor believes God, nor obeys God.
And here I cannot but remark, how much effect and simplicity go together in the annals of Moravianism. The men of this truly interesting denomination, address themselves exclusively to that principle of our nature, on which the proper influence of Christianity turns. Or, in other words, they take up the subject of the gospel message - that message devised by Him who knew what was in man, and who, therefore, knew how to make the right and the suitable application to man. They urge the plain Word of the Testimony: and they pray for a blessing from on high; and that thick impalpable veil, by which the god of this world blinds the hearts of them who believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ should enter into them - that veil, which no power of philosophy can draw aside, gives way to the demonstration of the Spirit; and thus it is, that a clear perception of scriptural truth, and all the freshness and permanency of its moral influences, are to be met with among men who have just emerged from the rudest and the grossest barbarity. When one looks at the number and the greatness of their achievements - when he thinks on the change they have made on materials so coarse and so unprornising.when he eyes the villages they have formed - and around the whole of that engaging perspective by which they have chequered and relieved the grim solitude of the desert, he witnesses the love, and listens to the piety of reclaimed savages; - who would not, long to be in possession of the charm by which they have wrought this wondrous transformation who would not willingly exchange for it all the parade of human eloquence, and all the confidence of human argument and for the wisdom of winning souls, who is there that would not rejoice to throw the loveliness of.the song, and all the insignificancy of its passing fascinations away from him?
And yet it is right that every cavil against Christianity should be met, and every argument for it be exhibited, and all the graces and sublimities of its doctrine be held out to their merited admiration. And if it be true, as it certainly is, that throughout the whole of this process, a man may be carried rejoicingly along from the mere indulgence of his taste, and the mere play and exercise of his understanding; while conscience is untouched, and the supremacy of moral claims upon the heart and the conduct is practically disowned by him - it is further right that this should be adverted to; and that such a melancholy unhingement in the constitution of man should be fully laid open; and that he should be driven out of the seductive complacency which he is so apt to cherish, merely because he delights in the loveliness of the song; and that he should be urged with the imperiousness of a demand which still remains unsatisfied, to turn him from the corrupt indifference of nature, and to become personally a religious man; and that he should be assured how all the gratification he felt in listening to the word which respected the kingdom of God, will be of no avail, unless that kingdom come to himself in power - that it will only go to heighten the perversity of his character - that it will not extenuate his real and practical ungodliness, but will serve most fearfully to aggravate its condemnation.
With a religion so argumentable as ours, it may it be easy to gather out of it a feast for the human understanding. With a religion so magnificent as ours, it may be easy to gather out of it a feast for the human imagination. But with a religion so humbling, and so strict, and so spiritual, it is not easy to mortify the pride, or to quell the strong enmity of nature; or to arrest the currency of the affections; or to turn the constitutional habits; or to pour a new complexion over the moral history; or to stem the domineering influence of things seen and things sensible; or to invest faith with a practical supremacy; or to give its objects such a vivacity of influence as shall overpower the near and the hourly impressions, that are ever emanating upon man from a seducing world. It is here that man feels himself treading upon the limit of his helplessness. It is here that he sees where the strength of nature ends; and the power of grace must either be put forth, or leave him to grope his darkling way without one inch of progress towards the life and the substance of Christianity. It is here that a barrier rises on the contemplation of the inquirer - the barrier of separation between the carnal and the spiritual, and on which he may idly waste the every energy which belongs to him in the enterprise of surmounting it. It is here, that after having walked the round of natures acquisitions, and lavished upon the truth all his ingenuities, and surveyed it in its every palpable character of grace and majesty, he will still feel himself on a level with the simplest and most untutored of the species. He needs the power of a living manifestation.heneeds the anointing which remaineth. He needs that which fixes and perpetuates a stable revolution upon the character, and in virtue of which he may be advanced from the state of one who hears and is delighted, to the state of one who hears and is a doer. How strikingly is the experience even of vigorous and accomplished nature at one on this point with the announcements of revelation, that to work this change, there must be the putting forth of a peculiar agency; and that it is an agency, which, withheld from the exercise of loftiest talent, is often brought down on an impressed audience, through the humblest of all instrumentality, with the demonstration of the Spirit and with power.
Think it not enough, that you carry in your bosom an expanding sense of the magnificence of creation. But pray for a subduing sense of the authority of the Creator. Think it not enough, that with the justness of a philosophical discernment, you have traced that boundary which hems in all the possibilities of human attainment, and have found that all beyond it is a dark and fathomless unknown. But let this modesty of science be carried, as in consistency it ought, to the question of revelation, and let all the antipathies of nature -be schooled to acquiescence in the authentic testimonies of the Bible. Think it not enough, that you have looked with sensibility and wonder at the representation of God throned in immensity, yet combining, with the vastness of his entire superintendance, a most thorough inspection into all the minute and countless diversities of existence. Think of your own heart as one of these diversities; and that he ponders all its tendencies; and has an eye upon all its movements; and marks all its waywardness; and, God of judgment as he is, records its every secret, and its every sin, in the book of his remembrance. Think it not enough, that. you have been led to associate a grandeur with the salvation of the New Testament, when made to understand that it draws upon it the regards of an arrested universe. How is it arresting your own mind? What has been the earnestness of your personal regards towards it? And tell us, if all its faith, and all its repentance, and all its holiness, are not disowned by you? Think it not enough, that you have felt a sentimental charm when angels were pictured to your fancy as beckoning you to their mansions, and anxiously looking to the every symptom of your grace and reformation. Be constrained by the power of all this tenderness, and yield yourselves up in a practical obedience to the call of the Lord God, merciful and gracious. Think it not enough, that you have shared for a moment in the deep and busy interest of that arduous conflict which is now going on for a moral ascendancy over the species.
Remember that the conflict is for each of you individually; and let this alarm you into a watchfulness against the power of every temptation, and a cleaving dependence upon Him through whom alone you will be more than conquerors. Above all, forget not, that while you only hear and are delighted, you are still under natures powerlessness and natures condemnation - and that the foundation is not laid, the mighty and essential change is not accomplished, the transition from death unto life is not undergone, the saving faith is not formed, nor the passage taken from darkness to time marvellous light of the gospel, till you are both hearers of the word and doers also. "For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was."
Home | Biography | Literature | Letters | Interests | Links | Quotes | Photo-Wallet