Imágenes de páginas

A popular story is advertized, we will suppose, under the title of "The Forest of Glenburne," a Tale of the Reformation. It is puffed into public notice, as any thing may be by sufficient effort, and is It is written soon making its influence felt on thousands of minds.

with signal ability, a vein of historical truth runs through it, and the incidents are selected and wrought into the story with consummate skill and tact, giving it all the vividness of a present reality. The principal parties neither say nor do what is not perfectly proper and orthodox; we are enchanted by their purity, love of truth, intelligence, charity, and social virtues. A conversation springs up between them respecting a notable church dignitary, named Cranmer; some of his acts and opinions are the theme of much public discussion and controversy, and it is quite natural that the subject should be introduced into private circles. If Archbishop Cranmer be an intelligent and sensible godly man, competent to decide questions of faith and duty; if he conscientiously abide by the truth when error is in the ascendant, and encounter the terrors of persecution and death with a stout heart and steady faith; his example and authority will be of great weight. His rebuke of the mummeries and superstitions of a corrupt religion will be felt, and neither arts, arguments, nor threats will avail against the powers of truth so illustriously vindicated, even at the stake. But now, suppose we put in array the attractions which Popery presents to the corrupt hearts of men, its claims to exclusive authority and infallibility, the imposing ceremonies of its ritual, its appeals to sense rather than to faith, and the coincidence of its whole genius and spirit with the gross conceptions of ignorance and superstition. And suppose further, that one of the intelligent and interesting parties to whom we just now referred is disposed to think well of Popery, and would fain bring his fair companion to embrace his view; to further his object, the good old Archbishop Cranmer is brought forward, and though treated with great deference as one of the lights of the church and a pillar of the reformed faith, yet arguments and opinions are put into his lips, which are too shallow for a school boy to use. The effects are what might be anticipated. "If the defences of the new faith be so weak as all that," says the too willing convert, "If that be all such a great and good man can make of them, it will certainly be safer for me to embrace that which claims to be primitive and infallible;" and the crucifix and beads are eagerly grasped. Or perhaps certain religious doctrines are in Vogue which are not relished by persons of taste and independent opinion. Opposers make little or no head against them by the ordinary methods of evidence and arguments, and so they

betake themselves to stratagem; they frame or exhume a system which in some of its features resembles that which is so obnoxious, and running back to the time when such a system had supporters here and there, a story is invented, and its incidents and characters so arranged as to bring into discussion the offensive creed. The tale will be wrought up with surpassing skill. A clergyman will be introduced, who espouses and promulgates the odious doctrines. A disciple of his will be another leading person in the drama, and perhaps a rare specimen of credulity and bigotry. Other parties will appear of the most amiable and attractive character; they shrink from the harsh doctrinal views of the preacher; they take brighter views of religion, and are made to exhibit all the loveliness, and gentleness, and benevolence, which are supposed to be the fruits of a true faith. The contrast is very effective, and the reader gladly turns away from the cold, stern severity of what passed for orthodoxy, as from a frightful dream. The next sermon he hears will perhaps bring to view some leading truth of Scripture, so nearly allied in substance, if not in form, to what he has seen so odiously depicted in the romance of a past generation, that he is shocked, and hastens to some place where his new taste will not be offended. Or suppose again, the purpose is to bring into contempt, in a more general way, evangelical religion, and its ministers and disciples. Then the story is framed to present in contrast, (not so boldly as to awaken suspicion,) on one side a character, genial, generous, companionable, and free from all offensive traits that worldly people are quick to detect and condemn; and on the other, a professor, and perhaps public teacher of religion, thrusting himself, and his favourite topics, out of season quite as often as in season, into all places and companies, and exhibiting in his temper and manner, anything but the gentleness, and suavity, and punctilious regard to the proprieties of life, such as religion enjoins, with much more consistency and authority than the customs of society. Interviews occur, in which questions of duty or consistency are discussed, and the "parson" or the "deacon," or the other "well meaning man," is made to propound and defend the most ultra views in such terms, in such a tone of voice, and with such weak arguments, as a lively imagination may conceive to be most provocative of contempt and disgust. If the tale is well wrought, the reader is scarcely conscious of its being other than a veritable report of something which actually occurred, instead of a gross caricature. The religious opinions of some of the most learned and godly men, that appear in the annals of the Christian church, have been thus presented in some

fictitious tale; first misrepresented and distorted, and then made responsible for inferences and conclusions, which shock common sense, and expose those to whom they are imputed to pity or contempt. In the graver class of books-as histories and biographies,similar insidious attempts to subvert sound principles implanted by a careful education, are by no means rare. But the more common theatre for the display of such skill is, as we have said, the lighter and cheaper literature, which finds its way into the hands of all classes and communities. Cart-loads of printed trash, decked out with coarse cuts, are in constant transit over the thoroughfares of the country; and though you may be protected by your social position from direct contact with them, you can scarcely fail to feel their incidental influence in the general deterioration of moral sentiment and intellectual vigour, which they are sure to produce. So rapid is the accumulation of printed matter, good and bad, that but a small portion of it can be read, even by those who have no other occupation. Some selection is therefore indispensable, and in making it, you should have reference to the cultivation of taste, the improvement of the mind, a proper familiarity with the current topics of interest; but most of all to the establishment or confirmation of right moral and religious principles. The authorship, or imprint of a volume, has long since ceased to be any certain guarantee of its character. Doctors of divinity in high repute among those who are regarded as evangelical, avow and defend doctrines and principles that are entirely irreconcilable with the received systems of our Protestant faith. Works of science are deeply impregnated with the poison of atheism. Magazines and newspapers, by incidental, but not less effectual, thrusts at our holy religion, succeed in diverting large numbers from the contemplation of it, and in imbuing others with prejudices and false views, which are, perhaps, never fully removed. Hence you will not wonder that your Christian friends should feel some anxiety to forewarn you on this subject. There will be no difficulty in finding as much reading as you desire, both secular and religious, outside of all obnoxious or equivocal productions. You will have neither time nor inclination to investigate questions of speculative theology; and as to the teachings of Holy Scripture, few religiously disposed people at the present day would insist on a higher, or be satisfied with a lower standard of orthodoxy, than is found in Hannah More's writings.

If you should decline to read a book or periodical, which a friend commends to you, on the ground that you stand in doubt of the author's views, or that you do not wish to read anything which

advocates what you regard as an error, you will perhaps be at once rebuked for a course so narrow and illiberal. How will you ever know what truth is, it will be said, unless you examine it in contrast with error? A pretty judge indeed, to make up your mind upon hearing one side; you set down all who differ from you as errorists; to be right, they must embrace your opinions. Well, you withdraw yourself into the shell of your infallibility, and refuse to examine the grounds on which they rest their convictions. There is something plausible in this appeal. There is an appearance of bigotry, of pusillanimity in declining a challenge to investigate the grounds of another's convic tions; and yet it is eminently unjust. Two men are about to engage in business, one decides to embark in manufacturing cotton goods, and the other betakes himself to mining coal. They have severally considered the probabilities of success, and each has acted upon his own conviction. It would be no evidence of narrowness or illiberality of views, if the manufacturer should decline to go into argument with the miner upon the comparative eligibility of the two pursuits. All his thoughts and energies must be bent to the prosecution of his own business; to spend his time in reading, or hearing arguments to unsettle his confidence in it, would be only to insure his failure. If each has used all proper and available means to obtain information, and has embarked heartily and energetically in the chosen enterprise, their success depends upon turning the eye and ear away from all diverting sights and sounds. Blind men who think they see, are very unsafe guides for those who are conscious that they are blind. Why should one who has been convinced upon evidence satisfactory to himself that, as a descendant of apostate Adam his nature is unholy, that his violations of the divine law have made him obnoxious to its terrible penalty, that provision is made in the gospel for the pardon of his sin and the remission of deserved punishment, that by faith in Christ and repentance towards God, he may obtain eternal life, and that faith and repentance are gifts of God, freely bestowed in answer to prayer, why should such a one willingly read a book, or hear a sermon or lecture in which these convictions are assailed? Why demolish a house built with so much care, and on what appeared a rock, in order to try some other foundation which cannot possibly be so safe? Why leave a good harbour, and put out into a stormy sea, upon a vague suggestion that a safe anchorage may be found somewhere else? Would a dutiful child willingly read or hear an argument against the obligation of the fifth commandment? Would a trustworthy and contented labourer patiently listen to evidence that his employer is a tyrant or a fool?

If I were asked to read a treatise advocating the doctrine of universal salvation, I should courteously, but peremptorily decline, on the ground that my views on that subject were well settled, from such an examination of the Sacred Scriptures as I had been able to give, and that I had no desire to know how much could be said in support of some other theory, so long as I was entirely satisfied of the truth of the one I had embraced. But, says my friend, you want me to adopt your views, and to this end you ask me to read your books and tracts. By no means; if, after proper inquiry and investigation, you are convinced that my views of this subject are not in accordance with divine revelation, you should resist every attempt to persuade you to renounce or modify your convictions, and should cleave to them with invincible pertinacity.

THOU hast heard, beloved, a gentle call,
Speaking to thee as it speaks to all,

[blocks in formation]
« AnteriorContinuar »