« ForrigeFortsæt »
separate himself from publicans and sinners, and to class among these all who may differ from, and therefore be considered by him as worse than himself? What more did the Pharisees of old? This is certainly not the lesson we conceive Scripture to intend. But is there no medium? you will say. None! I answer. We must either leave religion to men's own consciences, and the efforts of the Church, as we do, or by interfering with it, plunge into a sea of troubles for no good effect; and end, if we persevere, by splitting into sects, and exchanging that polished manner, which you allow us to possess, though you deny it the name of charity, for the brotherly love of religious rancour and intolerance; and all this would happen without our having, after all, effected any amelioration whatever in what now composes the mass of society ; but on the contrary, having allowed it to deteriorate by withdrawing the checks which now keep it in some sort of order. Look about you, Sir; we are certainly not grown more sanctified in our demeanour of late years; but, is there no amelioration in the tone of morals? Is all tolerated now in society that you can remember being tolerated? Bad as we still may be, I think I can defy you to deny that we are improved in this respect.
You somewhere have adduced novels as a test of our religion; allow me to adduce them, and
especially dramatic compositions, as a test of our improved decency at least, if not morality; and if you are candid, I think you must admit a difference in our favour. The cause of morality and rational religion are proceeding, silently and slowly perhaps, but surely. Religion has little now to fear from its enemies alone, but every thing from the intemperate and injudicious zeal of those who lay claim to being considered its warmest friends. Many an insurrection has been occasioned by endeavouring to force upon a people benefits they are not prepared to receive, whereas by a more judicious and patient course, they had received them with thankfulness!
If you, Sir, call in the aid of philosophy and imagination to enlighten us upon the unrevealed policy of God, as when you tell us, "We may be a spectacle to other worlds, for the sake of example to which, God may find himself OBLIGED to punish us:" (p. 228.) I do not quarrel with, though I cannot quite admire your supposition 1; but you, at least, are bound not to condemn us, if we take
1 The Koran has, if I mistake not, an idea something similar, and to my mind, as rational. One side of Paradise is separated only by a wall from the regions of the damned; and the inha bitants of that part are to be kept in order and recollection, by hearing the groans and cries of those in torture on the other side of the wall. I suppose the worlds in question are to have the same continuous advantage!
the same liberty, even though our conclusions may not suit your taste. What you admit of "the future punishment of sin not being as a judicial sentence, but happening in the way of natural consequence," (p. 228), is a piece of philosophy to which we also lay claim, but should never have expected your approval of. As it appears to me rather inconsistent with the equality of all sin, and the literal revelation of equality of punishment, for which we should have expected to find you a zealous contender. The next thing we come to, after a sermon of eight pages, is a charge against us of being defective in the love of God: (p. 237). The bare accusation we pretend not to deny. We are, alas, defective in every thing; but you say, "Love outruns the deductions of reasoning. requires not proof, the least hint, the slightest surmise is sufficient:" (p. 238). All this is certainly very undeniable, and a very cunningly devised hypothesis it is for the place you have assigned to it; it is one of the cleverest bits of casuistry in your whole book. I do not mean this offensively, as I believe you sincere; but we must consider what must happen, were you allowed to build upon this foundation. If we are to go beyond revelation, and require no proof, it must come to this,-that every thing that any weak or speculative fanatic or disturbed imagination could find or imagine, or
have at any time found or imagined evil, or any tendency to evil to exist in, must, upon the fealty of our love, be instantly renounced unquestioned. But this is not all. Love seeks to gratify, as well as to avoid offending. Then come fasts, penances, vows, seclusions, and all the exploded bigotry of the worst times of papacy over again. Are you prepared for this? For if you are to impose your opinion of all that should be done or left undone, I also must have the same liberty, and all will be anarchy, until the supremacy of some such hierarchy as the papal be again established, most probably with rogues at the helm. Then adieu toleration, and all the advantages we suppose ourselves to have gained! The fact, however, is, that love should require proof, or it will be apt to miss its object, especially when acting by the suggestions of others. You allow, that our service is to be a reasonable service, which must mean the application of the general rules given us, to particular circumstances, under the guidance of that reason supplied to us for this purpose. Reason must, therefore, be used by somebody. Who is this somebody to be? We no longer acknowledge a pope, nor does our Church claim infallibility. We have, then, no certain and acknowledged guide but our own consciences, and these must be influenced either by our own studies and reflections, or by those of others upon whom
we voluntarily rely; but then this voluntary reliance must always be held to imply, at least an indirect conviction, for if we cannot imagine ourselves to understand any particular point in question, we can and do imagine ourselves to understand that those upon whom we rely, are competent to, and actually do, understand it. This voluntary reliance forms the power of a Church, and the assent and adhesion of a people to the dicta of its ministry, is conformity. Every individual born and educated in a society professing this conformity to any Church, is bound not to separate therefrom without reverting to his own powers, and experiencing a strong mental conviction of the necessity of such separation. As, short of this, the humility and diffidence of Christianity should forbid an assumption of wrong in those, many of whom he may suppose, better authorities than himself. If you assent to this, as probably you will, it must, on the other hand, result, that as a sort of indemnification for this partial resignation of liberty, a man will not be bound to acquiesce at once in any new imposition, proposal, or suggestion whatsoever, be it even unanimously adopted by those authorities to whom he may be in the sort of spiritual allegiance above described. He can be bound to no more than to hear and consider it. But where the practice of the society in which he lives is, and ever has been,