Page images

is done for you, do not inquire, doubt, compare, discuss, decide : here are persons to whom all that is delegated let there be only authority and submission ; the privileged wise, and the subjugated ignorant, Christianity says the reverse of all this, and it has given a mighty impulse to the human mind. The interest and variety of the contents of the Bible seem designed by Providence for this end ; they make it pre-eminently the people's book--the book of the city and of the village, of the mechanic, labourer, artizan, and cottager; of the aged poor and the infant poor; the cause why millions prize the ability to read, transmit it down to millions more, and harbinger the wide diffusion of kyowledge, and gradual perfection of intellect.

While the influence of pure Christianity is good unmixed, and of the highest order, that of its various corruptions is as decidedly evil, So far as these additions or perversions relate to Trinitarian worship, and Ecclesiastical domina tion, their effects have been already exhibited, There are some other points which must now be noticed.

The Church of England retains so much coremony, that but for the evangelical party, and the reaction produced by the activity of different classes of Dissenters, the prevailing character of the religion of its members would be that of lifeless and ignorant formality. In practice, she rather requires submission than faith. Provided a heretic be a good churchman in other respects, and can make his own conscience easy, he may, so long as his clergyman is' not evangelical, remain in her communion with but little annoyance compared with what he would be exposed to amongst orthodox Dissenters.

Amongst Methodists and some Methodistic Calvinists, there is more of an imaginative religion than perhaps has ever existed, (except where secluded situation, unincreasing information, and aptness of local scenery, have preserved superstitions,) without being dissipated by inquiry, or calling in the aid of those sensible representations and daily ceremonies, which so commonly follow. and supersede, and though intended as a fortress, remain as a monument. They have a vivid perception of that humanized Deity, whom the liturgic worshippers, only describe in words. Liveried angels lackey them in their daily occupations, or wait at the gates of their chapels to carry to heaven intelligence of convictions and conversions. The very devil of their school-book pictures haunts their paths, whispers in their ears, and personally superintends their domestic troubles. Their hell is literally a brimstone lake ; and their heaven the temple, or city, with the material glory of God, and the robes, palms, crowns, and songs, of the Apocalypse. They lose the proselytes who take to thinking ; and the rest would speedily disband, did a splendid Catholic Establishment offer them an asylum. Happily a better destiny is prepared for them by Bell and Lancaster. - Genuine Calvinism is of a much more intellectual cast. It is framed for power and permanence. It despises ceremony, and rules the feelings with a rod of iron. It has all the energy of Mahometanism, in its most vigorous days, but without those seeds of weakness which so soon sprung up in its prosperity. The perpetual modifications of modern Calvinists have deprived the system of much of the gloomy grandeur, stern consistency, and almost omnipotent controul over the mind, which belonged to it originally. Those advocates have thereby shewn their own amiability, their respect for the Scriptures, and the approximation of their party towards pure Christianity. They have suffered reason to step beyond her allotted province in their creed, where she is treated as a slave, and employed to do the drudgery of completing and cementing parts, but not allowed to touch the foundations of the fabric. Calvinism is great only when taken as a whole ; and then formidable because, on erroneous principles, and for perverted objects, it exercises so much the powers of the understanding, and so completely pervades the mind with its tyrannous influence. It does not enfeeble or degrade, but embitter, darken and pervert the soul. The effects of this system on society are in strong contrast with those resulting from the milder and purer faith delineated in the last Lecture.

The character of God is exhibited in different lights. It may be said by all that he is supremely excellent, but the agreement is only verbal, for the details of this excellence display a complete contrariety. The opposite believers trace it in God as loving all his creatures, and as loving only a part; as forming all for happiness, and as foredooming numbers to misery; as making us individually responsible, and as both condemning and saving by moral substitution; as forgiving freely on repentance, and as dispensing mercy only after a satisfaction to his justice; as punishing to correct, and as condemning vindictively, and for ever. Have these opposite believers the same notion of goodness? If so, it is impossible, whatever be professed, that they should alike recognize it in their God. But if each believe in the absolute perfection of his God, their notions of moral excellence must be widely different, of that excellence to which they render their highest admiration, by which they form their own characters, and the imitation of which is the first principle of their religion. So far as this dark notion of the Deity is unchecked by the native movements of the heart, the unequivocal precepts of religion, and the intermixture of better princi

ples, it tends to form a gloomy bigot, miserable in himself and pernicious to others.

And has not the notion that conversion from sin to holiness is an immediate and miraculous work of the Holy Spirit on the mind, whieh no human power can attain, and, when attained, no human power destroy, an influence on society to be deprecated by the philanthropist? Does it not produce presumption in some, and despair in others? It has produced them widely and dreadfully, How deplorable his state, who believes in election, but is unconvinced of his own election; and in miraculous conversion, which he cannot satisfy himself that he has ever felt ; over whose devoted head have rolled, in imagination, the thunders of Almighty wrath ; who feels himself already fettered in every limb, and waiting for execution ; with no hand on earth to aid, no pitying voice from heaven to speak the words of mercy and of power, the conscious, helpless child of depravity and of misery, of everlasting misery! And suppose this muchdesired conviction gained ; his eternal salvation is now secure; he may, to use a favourite expression, “ fall foully, but not finally." How immense the distance between him and the beings amongst whom he lives and moves ! He is a child of God, but they are children of the devil; his mind is the illumined and purified residence of

« PreviousContinue »