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THE SENTIMENTS PROPER TO THE PRESENT CRISIS:
OCTOBER 19, 1803;
BEING THE DAY APPOINTED FOR A GENERAL FAST.
Uter esset, non uter imperaret.-Cicero.
SOME apology is due to the public for this discourse appearing so long after it was preached. The fact is, the writer was engaged on an exchange of services for a month with his highly esteemed friend the Rev. Mr. Lowell, of Bristol, author of an excellent volume of sermons on practical subjects, at the time it was delivered, and had no opportunity of writing it till he returned. As it touches entirely on permanent topics, except what relates to the threatened invasion still impending over us, he knows not but it may be as suitable now as if it had appeared earlier. As it is, he commits it to the candour of the public. He has only to add, that the allusion to the effects of the tragic muse should have been marked as a quotation, though the author knows not with certainty to whom to ascribe it. He believes it fell from the elegant pen of an illustrious female, Mrs. More.
SHELFORD, Nov. 30, 1803.
PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION.
In this edition the author has corrected those errors of the press which in the former were very considerable. The Monthly Reviewers have founded a criticism entirely on one of them. The author had remarked, that infidelity was bred in the stagnant marshes of corrupted Christianity. The printer having omitted the word corrupted, the Reviewers remark that they never found in their map of Christianity any stagnant marshes. Having mentioned the Monthly Reviewers, he must be permitted to notice a most singular error into which they have been betrayed; that of supposing the author had confounded Aristotle with Mrs. More. It is well known to every one who has the smallest tincture of learning, that the great critic of antiquity represents the design of tragedy to be that of purifying the heart by pity and terror. It appeared to the author that infidelity, by the crimes and disorders it has produced in society, was not incapable of answering a similar purpose. He accordingly availed himself of the comparison; but it having occurred to him afterward that he had read a similar passage in Mrs. More, he thought it right to notice this circumstance in an advertisement; in which he says he apprehends the allusion to the tragic muse to belong to Mrs. More. It was not the opinion of its being the purpose of tragedy to purify the heart by pity and terror that he ascribed to that celebrated female; but solely the allusion to that opinion as illustrating the effect of infidelity. It is on this slender foundation, however, that the writer in the Monthly Review, with what design is best known to himself, has thought fit to represent him as ascribing to Mrs. More, as its author, a critical opinion which has been current for more than two thousand years. He is certain his words will not support any such construction, though he will not contend that he has expressed himself with all the clearness that might be wished.
He is sorry to find some passages towards the close of the sermon have given offence to persons whom he highly esteems. It has been objected, that the author has admitted to heaven a crowd of legislators, patriots, and heroes, whose title to that honour, on Christian principles, is very equivocal. In reply to which, he begs it to be remembered that the New Testament teaches, that God is no respecter of persons; that in every nation, he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted of him; that we may be certain there will not be wanting in the innumerable assembly around the throne some of
the highest rank and of the most illustrious talents; and that the writer has qualified the character of those legislators and patriots whom he has represented as being in heaven with the epithet of virtuous; and this, after he had been at some pains to explain what he comprehended in his idea of virtue. He has been censured for attempting to animate the defenders of their country, by holding out the prospect of immortality, should they fall in the contest; and it has been asked why, instead of amusing them with this phantom, not endeavour to convince them of the necessity of religious preparation for death, when he must be aware it is very possible for men to die fighting in defence of their country, and yet fall short of future happiness. The writer is, indeed, fully persuaded, that in the concerns of salvation no reliance ought to be placed on a detached instance of virtuous conduct; that a solid piety is indispensably necessary, and that without holiness no man can see the Lord. But after having employed a great part of the preceding discourse in urging the necessity of repentance, he may surely be allowed for a moment to take for granted that his admonitions have been attended to; and without treading over the same ground, in an address to men who are supposed to be just entering the field, to advert to topics more immediately connected with military prowess. It was never his intention to place worldly on a level with religious considerations, or to confound the sentiments of honour with the dictates of duty. But as the fear of death and the love of fame are both natural, and both innocent within certain limits, he was not aware there could be any impropriety, when he had already dwelt largely on religious topics, to oppose one natural sentiment to another. He who confines himself to such considerations violates the character of the Christian minister; he who neglects them entirely is wanting to the duties of the present crisis. The writer has only to add on this head, that in the addresses on similar occasions in the Scriptures there is rarely a greater mixture of religious topics, or more reserve in appealing to other motives, than is found here; so that if he has erred, his error is countenanced by the highest, that is, by inspired authority.
Finally he has been censured for expressing in such strong terms his detestation of the character of Buonaparte. It has been said, that however just his representation may be, it is losing sight of the true design of a national fast, which is to confess and bewail our own sins, instead of inveighing against the sins of others. That this is the true end of a public fast the writer is convinced; on which account he has expressly cautioned his readers against placing reliance on their supposed superiority in virtue to their enemies. What he has said of the character of Buonaparte is with an entirely different view; it is urged, not as a ground of security, but as a motive to the most vigorous resistance. In this view it is impossible for it to be too deeply impressed. When a people are threatened with invasion, will it be affirmed that the personal character of the invader is of no consequence; and that it is not worth a moment's consideration whether he possess the virtuous moderation of a Washington, or the restless and