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CHAP. IV. § 5. 8vo. edit. p. 223.
Practical Christianity-Prevailing inadequate Conceptions— Some other grand Defects in the practical system of the bulk of Nominal Christians.
In your fifth section you profess to notice "some other grand defects in our practical system." I observe you have most judiciously left out the word " religious," or any other epithet to show what system you allude to; yet being under the general head of "Practical Christianity," our religious system is clearly enough implied, although the system you really attack has no reference whatsoever directly to religion, as you seem to understand very well in the following page. The defects you have complained of have, I say, nothing really to do with our religion or our ideas, adequate or inadequate, of the guilt of sin. It is not that we let" religion dwindle into a matter of police," but that we have been obliged, with reference to
society, to establish a sort of system of police, nearly, if not totally, independent of religion. We are all alike subject to the laws of religion, and equally amenable to an Omniscient tribunal: its threats and its promises are held out alike to each individual, and each has an equal interest in attending to them. But every one feels himself imperfect; that he will have enough to do to settle his own account with these! Did we meddle more with each other's religion, when religion was not immediately in question, and estimate each other's conduct, as you would have us, by Scripture rules, we should never cease from objurgation and recrimination, and become worse than we actually are. We should be like a gang of thieves, continually charging each other with offences against the laws of the land; not only all sinners, but not even orderly among ourselves. Necessity has thus compelled us to establish a sort of secondary police for society, a bye-law to which certain offences are specially amenable. But in noticing these, we do not take them out of the jurisdiction of religion, or declare others, that it would not answer our particular purpose to notice, innocent as regards a more general law: we only say, they are not cognizable before this tribunal. Every club must have its own particular laws and regulations about things specially pertaining to itself; they may
punish some things cognizable by the laws of the country; but in doing so, they have no intention either of upholding or taking the place of those laws. Other things they may leave unnoticed, but they do not thereby deny the propriety of the law that forbids and punishes them. If they took upon them a kind of secondary and inquisitorial jurisdiction of every thing that is unlawful, the object of their society would be lost, and instead of meeting in charity and good fellowship, the members would meet merely to accuse and judge each other. Thus we have rules and regulations for our society, by which we exclude such crimes as are generally inconsistent with its continuance; but we do not thereby deny the religious guilt of other crimes, though we do not by experience find it convenient to make them cognizable by the special rules of our society. You say, we "hold many things grossly criminal in the lower ranks, which we abet in the higher." Now, in this word "criminal," resides the whole pith of your accusation. We hold what is "grossly criminal" in one class to be "grossly criminal" in the other. But in the
pear to allude to, we make, properly reference to their criminality at all.
cases you ap
But the one
is punished, the other not! So it would be with a powerful man and a weak one, who should alike take it into their heads to assault passengers: the
weak man would probably get his head broken directly, the strong man's injustice might remain unpunished! We certainly only judge by externals; we can only judge by them, without creating greater evils than those from which we would escape: we tolerate what we cannot rectify! If a man of the higher classes is a sensualist or a drunkard, we cannot help it; and until he obtrudes his vices upon us, we find it more expedient not to notice them; it is his own business, not ours. But when our servants do such things, we find ourselves immediately inconvenienced thereby; and though the effect may operate as a punishment, yet our object is merely to rectify the inconvenience we ourselves experience from such conduct: the crime, as a crime, is left to its consequences, and to be judged by whatever tribunal may be the proper one to take cognizance of it. I give this as the real origin of the apparent distinction to which you allude, but without at all meaning to imply, that where there is influence, there does not necessarily exist a proportionate responsibility, or that we are not bound to uphold religion and morality where we can. It is not that I mean, in this instance, to plead guilty on the part of the higher orders, to an acknowledged neglect, either of general or particular duty, or, in fact, to plead at all, for or against any such charge. But in talking of religion, I do deny that
any such charge is proveable upon our system; therefore I say, what is the truth, that these things have no reference whatsoever to our religious opinions, and are done in general society without any direct reference to religion. I deny that the "common language" (p. 225) you allude to, is any proof at all of our internal opinion, or of our wish to palliate particular acts or opinions. It may be, and often is, used in palliation of the whole conduct of an individual, implying, that but for the blot alluded to, which, however, we hope, may not be so black as described, the individual would not be to be utterly condemned, having many redeeming qualities. Nobody would be more apt to commit the offence here complained of than your humble servant; and I can safely say, that I have done so often, where the vice alluded to has been one which I should least wish really to palliate, and upon which, if I thought it requisite to do so, or were required to pronounce upon with reference to religion, I should expatiate as warmly as yourself. If you form your judgment of language from dictionaries, (note, 225), you will necessarily fall into a labyrinth of error, especially where you would compare popular terms in different languages. You have jumbled together, with your usual tact, a number of different terms, some implying inculpation, some a special and limited degree of praise;