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Is it contended, then, it will be asked, that the Jews knew absolutely nothing of the doctrine of a future state before it was manifested by the Gospel ? Certainly not: but we would quote the words of our excellent essayist:
There is no doubt, that some considerable time before our Lord's advent, the belief in a future state did become prevalent (though, as the case of the Sadducees proves, not universal,) among the Jews. * *
eo * * * It is highly probable, however, that the belief of a future state, as it prevailed among the Jews in our Lord's time, and for a considerable period before, was not, properly speaking, drawn from their Scriptures in the first instance, -was not founded on the few faint hints to be met with in their prophets; though these were evidently called in to support it; but was the gradual result of a combination of other causes with these imperfect revelations.
To this first Essay, Dr. Whateley has appended some learned notes, upon which we forbear to say more than that we do not agree with his dicta about the inquiry into the state of disembodied spirits, which he characterizes as “ unnecessary,” and “ unprofitable.” For our views upon that interesting topic, we beg leave to refer him to our Numbers for October, November, and December, 1828, and January, 1829. It is a subject which we purpose shortly to resume.
Dr. W.'s second Essay is upon “ the Declaration of God in his Son;" by which he understands, not the mere message which Christ came to deliver, but the manifestation of God himself in Jesus, our Redeemer, whose incarnation he regards as a certain kind of revelation or display to men of the divine nature; and it is the Doctor's object to shew“ in what manner, and for what purpose, this manifestation was effected.” P.125.
To thread-bare truths, which have ceased to excite our wonder, or to engage our attention, he has imparted the freshness of novelty, by the vigour of his style; and to curious points of theology, of which we have hitherto found it difficult to frame a satisfactory solution, he has given the stability of a settled conviction, by the cogency of his logic. As to the model exhibited in the life of our blessed Redeemer, we are sure our readers will listen to Dr. Whateley rather than to ourselves, and therefore we gladly adorn our pages with the following extract from the Essay now under review. The learned Principal of St. Alban's Hall is contrasting the example of Christ with the pattern of the ideal Wise-man of the Stoics.
This method, however, of leading men to morality, though perhaps the best that in their situation they could have devised, laboured under a very important defect: I speak not of the blemishes in the ideal Wise-man they described ; though the character which they meant for a perfect one, was, according to the more correct principles now established, very far from perfect; still it is conceivable that it might have been so: let us then suppose it completely unexceptionable ; still it is ideal : it wants the power of inspiring that interest and sympathy, that affectionate reverence, that emulation, which a really existing person can alone inspire; and being represented to us only by general descriptions, it takes even less bold of the mind than the fictitious hero of a drama, who is represented as performing distinct individual actions; though we know that both are alike creatures of the imagination, which have therefore but a very faint effect in exciting us to imitation. An ideal model, in short, is but one short step removed from abstract moral precept: real human examples, on the contrary, are unsafe, from their imperfection. Both may do some service, but both leave much to be desired.
But if, while some of the ancient moralists were employed in recounting the actions, and holding forth the examples, of really existing illustrious men, to stimulate the emulation of their hearers,—and while others were pointing out, in the grave and lofty descriptions of the philosopher, or the vivid representations of the poet, an ideal exemplar of perfect excellence; a man exhibited such as men should be, not such as they are,--what would these sages, I say, have thought, had they been assured on sufficient authority that such a man had actually appeared on earth ; not having his virtues tarnished with defects, like the heroes of their histories; not, a phantom of imagination, like the Persons of their theatre, or the Wise-man of their schools; but a real, living, sublime, and faultless model of god-like virtue ? Surely they would have acknowledged with one voice, that such a character, and such a one only, was exactly suited to their wishes, and to the wants of their hearers; if they were at all sincere in their professions, they would have hailed with rapture the announcement of his existence; but would have wondered, at the same time, and doubted, how human nature could ever have attained this pitch of excellence. We might have answered them, &c. &c. Pp. 145–147.
We would enrich our pages with further quotations, but that we are summoned to the consideration of the third Essay, in the volume upon our table, “ on Love towards Christ as a motive to Obedience."
Whatever metaphysical difficulties may have been marshalled against this powerful principle, which appeals so eloquently to our feelings, and outruns the colder calculations of the judgment, it is a strikingly distinguishing feature of Christianity; and, as a motive of action, more strong, we are persuaded, than the hope of reward however great, or the fear of punishment however severe. In comparison with “ the love of Christ,” – that feeling of pious and affectionate attachment which makes our duty the delight of our bosoms,-all other motives are powerless, and weak as the fragile withs, which Sampson snapt asunder when he arose from his sleep. It is not that such love (as some feverish enthusiasts seem sometimes to teach) is to be considered a substitute for obedience, but as the source whence it should spring
The Gospel supplies us both with the motive and the rule;—" If ye love me, keep my commandments." This precept therefore is to be considered in two points of view: first, that the love of Christ is the proper ground of our obedience, the reason why we ought to keep his commandments: secondly, that the proper effect, and sure test of our love for Christ, is the keeping of his commandments.-P. 158.
“On each of these points many have fallen into dangerous mistakes:"-what they are, and how easily proved to be errors, he who wishes to learn, may consult Dr. Whateley's admirable Essay. There he will see how fatally those dreamers deceive themselves who would
urge their religious fervour as an excuse for the carelessness of their lives; and how grievously others mistake the weapons of their warfare, who “content themselves with dwelling on the rewards and punishments of the next world, and on the folly and danger of sin," to the utter suppression, or the occasional introduction, of the love of Christ as a motive to righteousness. We have sometimes felt this defect in the writings of some of our divines, who in every other respect are unexceptionable. They have ponderous learning, indeed, and irrefragable arguments;—they come forth to defend the cause of Christianity clad in coats of steel, and girt with the sword of truth; they annihilate the suspicions of the doubtful, and they demonstrate that it is our interest to be good: but they fail, we think, to win our affections; they fail to warm our hearts; and they seem to argue as if men were all intellect; and they forget, perhaps, that our reason is in vain convinced, when our feelings are unmoved. We know that we are uttering hacknied truisms; but we must remark, (and we would especially address ourselves to our clerical readers,) that these are truths which wise men have too much neglected, and we would humbly assume the privilege of asking whether the dry and unattractive manner,—the cold and merely ethical disquisitions, with which it is the practice of some preachers to tire their hearers, may not be classed amongst the causes which have filled the seats of dissenting chapels, and so miserably depopulated, in some instances, the pews of the Established Church? Let it never be forgotten, that Almost all the exhortations of the sacred writers are grounded on the infinite mercies of our great Instructor and Redeemer towards us, and on the gratitude, love, and reverence, which we ought to feel towards him in return. To our hopes and fears, indeed, they appeal incidentally and occasionally; but the sentiment which they are continually striving to excite and keep alive in us, and which is the main-spring of their whole moral system, is, a strong sense of the greatness and the goodness of our Saviour, and a fervent zeal in adoring and serving Him, who did and suffered so much for us.—P. 163.
Let us study the model of Scripture, and in our pastoral addresses we shall no longer be content to paint the beauty of the seemly and the fair,--to descant upon the certainty of death, or the shortness of life;—the just recompense of reward to be looked for at the final audit of men; - the folly of sin, and the identity of wisdom with religion ; for though these without question are arguments which every Christian teacher ought to employ; yet he must not confine himself to these, or make them his chief topics, if he would imitate the tone of the Gospel. · These topics indeed being almost entirely drawn from what is commonly called “natural religion," (as far at least as that is supposed to hold out any probability of a future state,) it follows of course, that to dwell exclusively on these, is to omit great part of what is peculiar to Christianity; and thus to lose sight of one very striking and characteristic feature of it; a feature constituting
one of those peculiarities, the neglect, or depreciation of which is so common, and so carefully to be guarded against.-P. 165.
We would fain quote an eloquent passage from pp. 176, 178 of this Essay, but we must now turn to our author's fourth Essay on the Practical Character of Revelation: in which he asks whether that circumstance be likely to constitute a character of a revelation from heaven.
This inquiry falls naturally (he says) under two heads : first, whether or not a pretended revelation is likely to contain any matters which are interesting to curiosity alone, and have no reference to practice; and, secondly, whether this is likely to be the case with a true revelation.-P. 184, 185.
The desire for knowledge, especially upon dark and mysterious subjects, from the hour when Eve fell, to the moment in which we are writing, is especially characteristic of human nature. Science, for its own sake, independently of the “cui bono,” ever interests the greedy curiosity of men; and we see, therefore, how the devices of the impostor, and the visions of the enthusiast, have sought to gain proselytes, or have fascinated the understandings of devotees," the one by professing to communicate what men are so desirous of knowing ;" the other, by so working upon the “diseased fancy, as to impose upon it its own day-dreams for a revelation.” “Matters of speculative curiosity, unconnected with practice," form, therefore, the larger part of all false systems of religion, as may be easily discerned by any one who considers the history of the Greek and Roman mythology, or the pretended revelations of the Hindoos, and of other modern pagans, or the elaborate descriptions of the Koran. Such is the case with the fables of the Jewish Talmud. Hence the idle legends of the Romish church. Hence the foolish visions of Swedenborg, "himself the dupe of his own distempered fancy.”
Such, then, being the character of false religions, what may we expect from a true one? P. 193. What then is in this respect the character of our religion? It may safely be asserted, that it is precisely such as we have seen, a true revelation might be expected to be: that it teaches us what is needful for us to know, but little or nothing besides; that the information it imparts is such as concerns the regulation of our character and practice, but leaves our curiosity unsatisfied.-P. 196.
Dr. Whateley fully and most ably demonstrates his position by an appeal to Scripture, and by contrasting the practical and uncircumstantial character of that sacred book with the minute details afforded by the impostor of Arabia, which abound with “a multitude of needless particulars, calculated to gratify an appetite for the marvellous,” but not possessing any relation to the practice of his followers.
From the practical character of Revelation, our author draws some most important results, as to the right use and interpretation of Scripture, under three heads :
Ist. “ What we ought to expect to learn from Revelation. 2dly. “ How we should understand what is revealed.” And, 3dly. “What application we should make of it.”
Sorely tempted as we are to extract some beautiful paragraphs, (not more beautiful, however, than wise,) and much as we have been delighted, and instructed too, we hope, by our author, in the concluding periods of this admirable Essay, which we strongly recommend to the perusal of our readers, we have, in good truth, no room to spare for their insertion; and we cannot part with our learned Principal, without a brief notice of his Fifth Essay, “On the Example of Children as proposed to Christians.”
Dr. Whateley divides his subject into two branches :
First, our analogy to children in respect of the knowledge we possess; and, secondly, in respect of duties of the rules of conduct we may derive from contemplating the condition of childhood.-P. 228.
In treating of the analogy of our situation to that of children in respect of knowledge, the circumstances to be noticed as most worthy of attention (the Doctor tells us), are these three; first, that their knowledge is, in kind, relative; i.e. that they know little more of any thing than the relation in which it stands to themselves; secondly, that in degree it is a scanty and imperfect knowledge; and, thirdly, that it is, nevertheless, practically sufficient for them, if they are but careful to make a good use of it.-P. 229.
The advantages to be derived from a comparison between the condition of Christians and that of children in respect of conduct, (“their conduct being often held out for imitation by Jesus and his followers"), are summed up in their humility, their docility, and their resignation; "i. e. an undoubting and affectionate confidence in parental care and kindness.”
The singular effect which our author has given to this interesting subject is highly creditable to his genius, and will amply repay many perusals. Nor can we withhold our full approbation from the advantages, which he has pointed out as necessarily attendant upon that mode of instruction by the example of children, which is strikingly characteristic of Christianity, “ and strongly confirming its divine origin, its importance, and its excellence.”
We sincerely acknowledge our obligations to Dr. Whateley for his excellent Essays, and we shall be not a little disappointed if the readers of the Christian Remembrancer do not acknowledge their obligations to us for having thus introduced to their notice so clever a work. We doubt not that they will be anxious to have an opportunity of analysing the volume which stands second at the head of this article; and, therefore, we purpose to submit it to their perusal in our next Number, assuring them, in the mean while, that it will still increase their admiration of the ability and the learning of the Principal of St. Alban's Hall,
VOL. XI. NO. XI.